Rec consultation agreed as rugby club scales down likely size of stadium
Bath Rugby is looking to scale down its plans for a new stadium at The Rec.
A consultation exercise has tonight been approved over proposals to formalise its use of the charitable land and allow for a new stadium to be built there.
But the club’s current thinking is to put its ambitious aspirations of a 25,000-seater arena on hold.
A development of that scale would have meant the demolition of Bath Sports and Leisure Centre and possibly even the Pavilion.
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But the recession and the club’s overriding desire to establish its right to be at The Rec have led it to lower its sights.
The Recreation Ground Trust - made up of three councillors who oversee The Rec - approved an eight-week consultation exercise into the future of the land tonight.
The people of Bath - to whom The Rec theoretically belongs under the official term of beneficiaries - will be asked to complete a questionnaire asking for their views on a once-and-for-all solution to a decade of wrangling over the land.
This would see the rugby club’s training ground at Lambridge given to the trust to make up for the fact that some of The Rec cannot be openly used by the public, and in anticipation of more of the city centre site disappearing under a larger stadium.
The club is still fine-tuning its stadium plans and will not stage its own consultation period until after the trust’s exercise has ended.
But it is likely to go for a capacity more like 17,000 - compared to the existing 12,300 figure - in a move that would no longer involve it in having to contribute to the cost of a replacement for the sports centre.
The questionnaire asks people whether they agree or disagree with the trust’s proposals and for their ideas on what other activities they would like to see at The Rec, the sports centre and Lambridge - which is likely to become the main venue for the club’s youth rugby.
With a bigger footprint, the rugby club would occupy just over 6,000 more square metres of land at The Rec than it currently does during the winter season, while the donation of Lambridge would increase the size of the trust’s landholding by 45,500 square metres. The maths of this are that six times as much land is being put into the trust's ownership as will be lost to year-round public use by the expanded rugby club footprint.
The east stand of the new stadium will remain removable so that The Rec can still be managed as an open space during the summer, and there would be improvements to the cricket pavilion and the Turnstile Entrance.
Club chief executive Nick Blofeld said it was aiming for a “smaller, more deliverable project,” and welcomed the trust exercise.
“We hope that there will be an opportunity for as many people as possible to share their views and we will be supporting their efforts however we can. These are exciting times and this will, once and for all, decide whether the club can stay at its historic home and occupy more space for the development of a slightly bigger, but significantly better stadium.”
The club has stressed that there will be no any actual designs emerging during the trust exercise, which will lead to an approach to the Charity Commission asking for the trust's charitable objectives to be rewritten if the shake-up gets public backing.
In a message on its website, the club adds: "This is a critical stage and we ask everyone to engage and respond to the Recreation Ground Trust's consultation. If the club cannot create a slightly bigger stadium at The Rec, we will no longer be able to stay at our spiritual home at the heart of Bath."
It has also set up the beginnings of its own consultation website at www.attheheartofbath.com and a community information line on 0800 019 2041.
Trust chairman Councillor Chris Watt said: “The trustees are very pleased that we can finally put our plans to our beneficiaries. They represent an opportunity to finally resolve the problems we have and place the trust on a very sound footing for the future. Extra land and better facilities will be great for the beneficiaries and we are looking forward to talking to them during this consultation.”
The Real Friends of The Rec pressure group, which wants to keep the club at its historic home, said the consultation was "a very important first step towards The Rec becoming a first-class venue for all sports for all people".
Chairman Peter Downey said: "Whilst this consultation is only about space and usage and does not go into detailed proposals about new developments such as a new arena on The Rec, the committee of the Real Friends of the Rec believe that members should support the proposals."
The exercise will run until June 10 and details, including the questionnaire, will be on the websites www.recreationgroundtrust.org.uk, and www.consult.recreationgroundtrust.org.uk.
The trust will also be organising public meetings, details of which will also be on the site once it is fully operational.
Paper versions of the consultation document will also be available.