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Expanding St James Park looks dead – Ruing a missed opportunity

5 years ago

Friday March 17 was a pretty unremarkable date for Newcastle United supporters.

Apart from it being St Patrick’s Day and a good excuse for a few pints of Guinness in the local hostelries of our fine city, there wasn’t much else going on.

But look again at the date. Something seismic happened which could have a big impact on our club’s future.

These events weren’t played out on a football pitch but in a room at Newcastle Civic Centre, at the council’s planning committee.

A decision was taken to allow a property developer to build two student blocks of flats on the site of the current Gallowgate car park, just next to St James Metro station. Nine and eleven storey buildings will appear on the site. The car park will be gone.

There is also likely to be a further planning application to construct a 17 storey tower block on the same piece of land. The march of the skyscrapers is well and truly underway.

Any future plans to increase the capacity of the Gallowgate end now appear to be scuppered. Mike Ashley will seemingly benefit from the redevelopment of the area, not the football club.

The report claims there is still scope to expand the ground but these claims appear to be hotly disputed. A forest of buildings right on Strawberry Place will surely leave little room for the kind of space needed to add an extra tier of seats on to the adjacent stand.

My main annoyance is the potential of an expansion looks to be dead. Mike Ashley may not own NUFC in ten years time. A new owner might want to actually look at expansion, given the clutch of other big name clubs who are adding capacity or moving to swanky new stadia.

The arrival of these buildings will mean we’re left to rue a missed opportunity. A capacity of 52,000 is not to be sniffed at but just think what it could be. A capacity of over 60,000 would be a magnificent sight and with the right strategic approach, those seats could be filled.

Extra revenue right there. A ground good enough to even bid for a few UEFA showpiece finals? They tried for the Europa League Final in 2008 but lost out to Manchester City’s commonwealth games conversion, now the Etihad.

I appreciate that planning applications can only be rejected on material planning grounds but I am still frustrated with the decision. The iconic views of St James Park from across the city just won’t be the same.

The flip side of the argument? Many will say 52,000 seats are more than enough and any redevelopment of the ground would cost tens of millions of pounds, money which could be used to buy new and better players.

One of the last actions of Hall and Shepherd era was to look into the feasibility of adding another 8,000 seats onto the Gallowgate. It would have required Strawberry Place to become an underpass, with a massive stand on the same sort of scale as the redeveloped Milburn and Leazes, completed in 2001.  We already know that the East Stand cannot be looked at due to the proximity of listed buildings.

There was a will to make this scheme happen back in 2007, if not the finance, but then a few months later Mike Ashley happened and the rest is history.

Okay, okay, we’re getting a bit doe-eyed here. It’s a romantic notion to see another  redevelopment at St James’ Park. Maybe in reality we wouldn’t fill the seats. We may never get to find out now, and that’s such a huge shame.

British summer time

The clocks going forward. The light nights are here. There are just eight games to go. If this season has been like running the 10,000 metres then the bell has sounded for the dramatic final lap. Who can find the kick to get around the last bend and down the home straight?

It will be Newcastle United, if the manager can make the necessary tweaks to deliver some much-needed home wins. Has he been too cautious at St James Park? I think he has.

What’s to fear? Let’s use these last home games to really go for it. Throw the kitchen sink at our opponents. We sat back against Fulham, in what was a brainless display, and we got well and truly done over.

Rafa needs to find a way of getting the team firing from the very first whistle when the onus is on us to come out and win the game in front of our own fans.

The next few weeks will have real drama in them. It may need a health warning. There will be nerves aplenty, no doubt, but we are well placed.

There was probably mental fatigue from the Herculean efforts at Brighton and Huddersfield. They have now had a good break.

It’s time to finish the job as fast as possible. The denouement of a marathon season is here.

You can follow the author on Twitter @DavePunton

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