County news March 16, 2012

Gloucestershire granted council loan

Gloucestershire are to receive a bridging loan of £400,000 from Bristol City Council while they await the outcome of their appeal over the planning application for the redevelopment of their Nevil Road ground.

The short-term loan will help Gloucestershire with their running costs and pay for the professional services incurred as they adapt their plans. The loan, which has been granted at a preferential rate of interest, will have to be repaid whether the club are successful with their appeal or not.

The club's planning application for a £10 million ground redevelopment was rejected by the council in January. The scheme, which involved the construction of 147 flats in a seven-storey block, was rejected partially as some local residents felt the building was too high. Parking and travel considerations were also an issue. The adapted scheme contains the same number of flats - the club insist that reducing the number would compromise the viability of the whole project - but split over six storeys and a larger surface area. The club will also continue to lobby for the reopening of the local railway station at Ashley Down that was closed as in the 1960s. The appeal is due to be considered at the end of May.

The retention of international cricket is a key motivation behind the redevelopment. The club's management feel such a policy provides the best hope of achieving financial stability and the resources to compete with other counties, though critics suggest that Gloucestershire are the poor relations in the viciously competitive battle for international fixtures and that another large venue might well become a white elephant. It is a point of view lent weight by the recent experiences of Hampshire and Glamorgan.

Should the appeal be rejected, Gloucestershire insist they will press ahead with plans to relocate; possibly outside Bristol. Tuffley Avenue in Gloucester is one potential location though a site at Filton Airfield, three miles north of Nevil Road, will also be explored. Bristol City Council is naturally enough keen to retain a business that it estimates brings in around £1m to the local community each time an international game is played at the ground. Gloucester City Council have already been in touch with the club for early talks over a potential move.

"As part of our duties as a local authority, we are keen to support organisations that are valuable to the city and important to its residents," Simon Cook, the deputy leader of Bristol City Council, said. "We understand how important sport is for the successful infrastructure of the region and have always been supportive of the cricket club in their ambition to retain international cricket at the Nevil Road ground.

"Offering a loan is a pragmatic way we can help over the next few months while they work on the development plans for the ground. The repayment is guaranteed whether their plans proceed or not, so does not in any way prejudice the council's independent planning decision-making process."

Tom Richardson, chief executive of Gloucestershire, said: "As a long-standing member of the Bristol community and a popular members' club, it is a priority for us to ensure our future at Nevil Road. This is specifically so we can deliver a fit-for-purpose facility that will host international matches and also invest in a high quality and standard of county cricket - something we believe is of great benefit to the region in general."

The loan will fuel concerns over Gloucestershire's ongoing viability, however. The club have already lost the services of former England bowler Jon Lewis, who signed for Surrey after Gloucestershire were unable to offer him assurances over his future, while they are in legal dispute with Chris Taylor after they withdrew a contract offer following the failed planning application. The addition of a £400,000 loan raises the stakes on their redevelopment gamble.

Edited by Alan Gardner

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo