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Opinion

St James Park expansion hopes raised as Gallowgate land developer goes for administration

1 month ago
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High Street Group has applied to go into administration.

The (possible…) relevance to Newcastle United is that one of the projects that they currently are involved with, is developing land next to St James Park, opposite the Gallowgate End.

Business Live report that the company have told investors that it will go to court in December to put its parent company into administration.

Business Live reporting that: ‘Over the last two years, the company has twice seen its auditors resign while its accounts are significantly overdue and a number of its subsidiaries are facing being struck off. It hit major difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that a number of its institutional funders had withdrawn financing for development schemes.’

Business Live then quoting from a letter by Hight Street Group chairman Gary Forrest: “The decision was made to place High Street Group Limited into Administration. This does not prevent the projects as listed above from progressing. It will also provide an extra layer of protection to the investors, in that independent licenced insolvency practitioners will be monitoring the projects and providing regular reports to all Creditors. Upon completion of the projects, the funds generated through the indemnities will be dispersed to the loan note holders by the administrators.”

So basically, despite the imminent move into administration, current projects would / could still go ahead.

However, what if the new Newcastle United owners now moved in and offered High Street Group / administrators a tempting offer to stop their Gallowgate development progressing? Indeed, I hope that amongst the many issues that they are tackling behind the scenes, that this one is something the new NUFC owners have had top of their list.

Yes, trying to avoid relegation is massive BUT how many people will have the opportunity to watch Newcastle United for decades to come, is arguably far bigger. Failure to move on this now, dictating the limitations of St James Park for the foreseeable future.

Amongst the many reprehensible things Mike Ashley did, the selling of the land opposite Gallowgate was arguably the most cynical and spiteful. The land was included as part of Newcastle United when Ashley bought the club in 2007 and he bought the land from the club at a certain price, so that he could then sell it to the High Street Group and make himself a few million personal profit, none of that profit going into Newcastle United. So basically selling off the future of Newcastle United / St James Park for a few million quid. No less than we would expect of him.

To anybody who has said in recent times that having the opportunity to expand the St James Park capacity is of little / no importance, what do you think now?

The fact that Newcastle United averaged 51,106 across 23 home games in the 2016/17 Championship season should have told everybody how important this was / is.

Now we have potentially all the ambition in the world, 52,000 is nowhere near what we need.

The Hall and Shepherd ownership had plans drawn up showing that by expanding the Gallowgate the capacity could go up to at least 60,000. I have a feeling that if looked at now, almost a couple of decades on, even just by expanding at that end of the stadium it could be considerably more than 60,000 as a possibility.

Leazes Terrace is a Grade One listed building which was built by Richard Grainger almost 200 years ago (around 1830) and is used as halls of residence for Newcastle University. As the photo above shows, its proximity of St James Park to Leazes Terrace and other buildings on that side of St James Park, makes the East Stand very difficult to increase in capacity.

However, is it impossible?

Over 14 years of Mike Ashley saw him refuse to even allow money to be spent on cleaning St James Park properly. Indeed, countless studies of comparative infrastructure spending (on maintenance / improvements / construction of stadium, training ground, academy etc) have shown that under Ashley, Newcastle United had the lowest spend of any Premier League club and indeed lower than many other Championship clubs.

No surprise then that no feasibility study was carried out under Mike Ashley on what the possibilities would be of expanding St James Park, including…though not exclusive to, the plans drawn up by Hall and Shepherd. After all, when you had an owner with zero interest in the long-term health of Newcastle United and only wanted to gain every possible short-term benefit for himself, why go to the trouble / risk of improving / expanding St James Park? Same with the training ground and academy of course. Mike Ashley actually announced plans in 2013 for the ‘essential’ new state of the art training complex, that he said was desperately needed if Newcastle were going to be able to compete. Despite Ashley saying it would be built ASAP, not one brick was laid in the next eight years before he eventually sold the club.

I just hope that a massive feasibility study has been taken straight away by the new owners to look at how St James Park can be expanded as much as possible and every modern design / construction solution looked into.

A quick look at the official club ticketing site tells me that all Premier League games, home and away, are sold out for Newcastle United fans, until the Watford match at St James Park on 15 January 2022, match by match tickets for that one go on sale next week (15 December). Tickets for the FA Cup match against Cambridge (weekend of Saturday 8 January) are yet to go on sale, with indeed the day and time yet to be confirmed.

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