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January 27, 2009
Worcestershire could soon be playing cricket at a new ground as they seek ways to counter the growing risk of flooding.
The club, who have been based at New Road since the end of the 19th century, plan to play limited-overs cricket on the outskirts of the city of Worcester and could move to the ground entirely if flooding problems persist.
Planning application for the new ground, situated at Hindlip (just off junction six of the M5), will be submitted within weeks in anticipation of work beginning in the spring. In the long-term the owners, Sir Bert Millichip Sports Limited, do not rule out attempting to stage international matches at the venue.
The 'sports hub', which will be situated adjacent to rugby's Worcester Warriors' Sixways Stadium, will also ultimately feature an Olympic size swimming pool, a tennis centre and the Sir Bobby Robson football centre.
The timing of the news will surprise many. Worcestershire are currently building a new pavilion at New Road and have plans for a £10m redevelopment of the site. Indeed, they insist they remain committed to their picturesque New Road home and intend to continue playing their first-class fixtures at the venue.
There is a growing sense that they require a contingency plan, however, and the Hindlip ground could prove ideal. As a privately-financed initiative, Worcestershire are not putting their own money into the project, though they are considering allocating their £500,000 floodlight grant from the ECB directly to the new ground.
The site will also accommodate a large indoor school. Worcestershire's New Road ground is the only county HQ without such a facility, with players currently travelling as far afield as Birmingham and Shrewsbury for nets.
Obstacles remain, however. The developers require planning permission to build 500 houses to fund the sports hub. Though the council initially identified the site as their "preferred option" for housing, they are now favouring another site which would not provide the same sporting potential. Indeed, such a scenario would pose a considerable threat to the sports hub proposals.
That would be a shame, according to Worcestershire's chief executive, Mark Newton. "There is an opportunity to do something very special here," Newton told Cricinfo. "And not just for cricket. Worcester could get world-class sports facilities. We're in favour of anything that makes that happen and we liked the look of the outlined scheme. In this day and age, how else could you fund such facilities?
"From our perspective this would be a second ground. It would be a wonderful facility, with a state of the art indoor school. But we are committed to New Road and we will continue to play first-class cricket there."
Worcestershire lost over £1m in 2007 after floods devastated their home fixture list. They were again forced to evacuate New Road at the end of the 2008 season and, though they have an agreement to use Kidderminster Victoria CC's ground, its position in a residential area renders it unsuitable for further development.
Those requiring a reminder of New Road's precarious position at the water's edge may not have long to wait. "Two days' solid rain would probably result in another flood," Newton admitted. "We've been quite lucky so far this winter, but now is the danger period."
George Dobell is the former cricket correspondent of the Birmingham Post
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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