Lancashire's bid to redevelop their crumbling Old Trafford ground could turn into a race to save the county's future, according to their chief executive, Jim Cumbes, as the club prepares to post a loss of around £2million for 2010, the worst ever recorded by a county cricket club.
The figures, which have yet to be audited but will shortly be revealed to the club's members, follow on from a loss of £546,000 in 2009, and have been exacerbated by a costly judicial review into the ground's planning approval which has delayed the £30 million makeover, and the hearing for which been set for February 28 and March 1.
The supermarket giant, Tesco, put forward £21 million of the money for the redevelopment, which was approved by Trafford Council in 2010, with a further £5.2 million from the North West Development Agency contingent on work starting before April. However, a rival development, Derwent, who own the nearby White City Retail Park, has attempted to block Tesco's plans, trapping Lancashire right in the middle of the dispute.
"It's a critical decision for us, because although we aren't the party being judicially reviewed, clearly we are the ones with the most to lose," Cumbes told ESPNcricinfo. "We've paid out £1.5 million in fees for all the advice on the planning, and the delay by a rival wanting to build another supermarket in the area has delayed all the funding coming down to us. We expected to see that money back in October, but we haven't yet seen a penny, and that's hit us pretty hard."
Lancashire's problems could be exacerbated if they miss their April deadline for redevelopment, because that would effectively end their hopes of securing an Ashes Test for 2013, which as Cumbes conceded, has already been factored into their revenue forecasts for future seasons. "That has been our target from the word go," he said. "We drew up a business plan on the basis that, having missed an Ashes Test in 2009, we'd be in a stronger position to get one in 2013, because Old Trafford has never missed two Australia matches in its history."
Instead, Old Trafford has been living on scraps in recent seasons, with last summer's three-day Test against Bangladesh being their only such match since the visit of New Zealand in 2008. "We've undertaken our development because we know we weren't up to scratch," said Cumbes. "But we've not had as many matches as we are used to, and that is critical because a large ground such as this requires maintenance irrespective of whether we get Test matches or not."
A further short-term dent in Lancashire's balance sheet has been created by The Point, the controversial £12 million conference centre overlooking the ground which was officially opened during the Bangladesh Test in June, and is capable of catering for up to 800 people at a time. Cumbes, however, is confident that the benefits of that particular investment will be reaped in 2011 and beyond.
"We wanted to send a message out to people that we were serious about development, and in that respect it is part of our business plan for the future," he said. "Bookings for the venue have only really got going in the last three or four months, and it's certainly been very encouraging, but of course when people book events of that size, they book months in advance, not a week ahead. We always knew that the benefits of that investment would come later rather than sooner."
However, the club knows it cannot afford to rest easy for the coming months. "We are not ringing alarm bells yet, but with the amount of debt that all category A grounds are getting at the moment, someone somewhere is going to run into trouble before long," said Cumbes. "At the moment the club isn't going under, but if we didn't get the go-ahead for redevelopment, didn't get Tests and weren't recognised as a category A ground, then clearly the club would be in some sort of trouble. Whether that trouble is just remaining as a small county club or not existing at all is open to debate."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo