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Opinion

‘I need to declare a conflict of interest – I have a season ticket and own a flat in Leazes Terrace’

2 months ago
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There has been a lot of debate recently about demolishing Leazes Terrace to allow expansion of the East Stand.

Let’s put aside the history and just look at the practicalities of acquiring the building.

Leazes Terrace is about two thirds student accommodation and about one third private flats (I need to declare a conflict of interest – I have a season ticket and I own a flat in Leazes Terrace). The section with railings around the gardens, facing towards Leazes Park, is privately owned.

Interestingly, the student flats are owned by a Saudi-based investment group, so I’m sure that with a little pressure from the Crown Prince, they could be persuaded to sell up. The private flats are people’s homes and that will prove more difficult. I doubt that anyone that I know would sell willingly.

Newcastle United could seek a Compulsory Purchase Order and would have to prove that acquiring and demolishing the property for development would be ‘for the greater good’. This would require a lengthy Public Inquiry and I doubt that the application would be successful. The benefit would be to a few thousand people who could watch a football match on 30 or so days a year (if we are in Europe), and the same or greater benefit could be achieved by building a new stadium elsewhere.

The alternative is to buy out owners with an inflated offer. Everyone has their price, but I doubt that I would even engage unless the opening offer was several times market value, and I’m sympathetic to the club. I’m sure others would be more stubborn.

Turning to the historical value of Leazes Terrace, not many people know that St James’ Park exists because of Leazes Terrace. In the late 1800s, a doctor who lived there was keen on football. He allowed teams to get changed in his house and run across the road to play on a pitch on Leazes Moor. A proper stadium gradually developed.

Leazes Terrace is now a Grade 1 listed building and is therefore of national historic importance. It also sits within a Conservation Area. It isn’t impossible to significantly alter or demolish such buildings for redevelopment, but any process would take many years and would probably fail because, again, the benefit is small and can be exceeded by building a new stadium elsewhere.

The other consideration to expanding the footprint of St James’ Park is that it is built on the Town Moor. This would be an issue with an extension of the Leazes End into Leazes Park. Any such development has to be approved by an Act of Parliament, which would only realistically succeed with the support of the local MP, currently Chi Onwurah. This is what scuppered John Hall’s plan to build further up Barrack Road on Leazes Park in the late 90s. There was a lot of public opposition within the Newcastle Central constituency and the then MP was worried about being punished at the next election.

I love the fact that I can currently get from my front door to my seat in about five minutes, but the only realistic option to accommodate others who cannot watch games live, is a new stadium elsewhere. Leazes Terrace isn’t moving, St James’ Park will have to.

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