x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

England, the home of cricket, aims to build positive spin

Business of sport: As the start of first Test against the old enemy approaches this week, county grounds across the UK are being revamped as they hope to lure lucrative international matches with upgraded, enlarged stadiums.

About £32 million has been spent so far on Old Trafford in Manchester. The redevelopment was made possible by Lancashire partnering with Tesco and developer Ask. PA Wire / Press Association Images
About £32 million has been spent so far on Old Trafford in Manchester. The redevelopment was made possible by Lancashire partnering with Tesco and developer Ask. PA Wire / Press Association Images

As the 2013 Ashes cricket series begins at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, England, on Wednesday - with the home side overwhelming favourites to beat the Australians - the English game itself appears in good shape.

Off the field, this renaissance has been driven by the English Cricket Board (ECB) introducing more competitive bidding for the rights to stage internationals.

With counties in what is regarded as the home of the sport needing to upgrade facilities to win lucrative fixtures, a swath of cricket stadiums have been redeveloped over the past decade and that trend shows no sign of slowing.

On August 1, the third of the five-Test series starts at Old Trafford in Manchester. When the Independent Major Match Group, chaired by Lord Morris of Handsworth, confirmed in 2011 what grounds would stage matches from this year to 2016, a redevelopment of Old Trafford was key to securing that match.

The second Ashes Test will be at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. Often considered the home of the game, Lord's will host 48 international match days between this year and 2016 but is also about to undergo a major redevelopment.

The Lord's owner, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), is proposing a £200 million (Dh1.11 billion) project beginning with the redevelopment of the Warner Stand in autumn next year and culminating in 2027 with reconstruction of the Compton and Edrich Stands.

"The phased approach allows room for flexibility and evolution," says Colin Maber, the chairman of MCC's ground working party and estates committee.

"Our key principles - on the absolute need to retain the size of both grounds [Lord's and the Nursery Ground next door], on keeping Lord's as a 'ground' rather than making it a 'stadium', on the importance of green open spaces and on enhancing the experience for every visitor - will underpin all we do."

The first phase will add 2,700 seats. A planning application for the new Warner Stand and Garden Entrance at Grove End Road will be submitted to Westminster City council this year with MCC members canvassed next spring.

The MCC has recruited the specialist stadium architects Populous and estimates the entire project will cost from £180m to £200m with the first phase valued at £90m and funded entirely from club resources.

This phase must be finished by 2019, when England hosts the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup. Work will restart in 2021 and run until 2027 with this second tranche financed via a combination of MCC funds and "sensible levels of borrowing", the MCC says.

For UK counties chasing highly prized international cricket stadiaum status, funding redevelopment is a delicate balancing act.

Glamorgan in Wales spent £9.5m redeveloping Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. In 2009, the ground staged an Ashes Test and was one of three hosting matches in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy. But Sophia Gardens will not host an Ashes Test this year and the Glamorgan Cricket Club chief executive Alan Hamer recently admitted his club had "significant" debt of £15m.

Derbyshire is relying on £1m direct from the ECB for a £2.5m overhaul of Derby's County Ground. This money was only forthcoming after the county pushed through governance changes, including a smaller committee, to please the ECB.

The remaining £1.5m will come from Derby city council's regeneration fund but many other counties are forming partnerships with outside companies, often developers, to fund stadia work. This can bring difficulties.

Lancashire's redevelopment has so far cost £32m but would not have been possible without the club forming a partnership with the UK supermarket giant Tesco and the developer Ask.

In return for funding for the stadium, Ask would develop a new Tesco supermarket on land adjacent to Lancashire's Old Trafford. That plan was approved by Trafford council in 2010 but the developer Derwent Holdings - the owners of the nearby White City retail park in Manchester - challenged this approval through the courts because its own plans to build a supermarket at White City had been rejected.

In 2010 the contractor Morgan Sindall had been able to start building a £15m media centre at Old Trafford but Derwent's challenge was not quashed by the UK court of appeal until July 2011. Six months later, Morgan Sindall was awarded a £12.4m deal to build the second stage comprising two grandstands and refurbishment of the Pavilion to expand capacity to 15,000 - a figure rising to 25,000 with temporary seating.

Hosting a Test, particularly in the Ashes, is a pinnacle beyond some counties but one-day international (ODI) status is more achievable.

Gloucestershire's County Ground in Bristol, in the west of England, stages ODIs and will host England versus India next year. Keen to retain this status, the club recruited the contractor Galliford Try this year to start redevelopment. The £5m first phase features a media centre, conference and banqueting facilities and 147 houses.

Like Lancashire and Gloucestershire, commercial involvement was central to the southern English county Essex's plans.

The club is working with the residential developer MCD to turn the county cricket venue in Chelmsford into an 8,000-capacity ground with flats built outside to help finance a new pavilion, cricket school, car park, a public square and a bridge.

The smallest of three towers will contain 62 apartments on top of the cricket club car park. Two more towers will follow. When work began this year, Essex said 90 per cent of these apartments were sold with the money used for ground redevelopment.

"A strong level of investment has been made during 2012 and early 2013 to make further improvements to the existing facilities here," says Danny Macklin, the Essex commercial director.

A residential developer, Pegasus Retirement Homes, was central to the first phase of Somerset's £43m plan for the county ground in Taunton, in the south west of England, where 65 retirement flats were built in 2009.

A masterplan was drawn up in 2005 by the architects Feilden Clegg Bradley and work is phased with the 800-seat Ondaatje Pavilion - named after the award-winning author Sir Christopher Ondaatje, who provided funding - opening in 2011. The focus is now on the Old Pavilion as Somerset aims for a 15,000-capacity venue for ODIs and providing a headquarters for the English women's cricket team.

Kent is working with the developer McCarthy & Stone on plans for a residential development at Canterbury stadium in the south east of England after discounting plans for a hotel on the same site.

In 2010, Sussex, on the English south coast, began a phased £8m redevelopment of Hove's county ground with work carried out by Farnrise, a local contractor that is also a club sponsor.

For these counties, the target lies beyond the Ashes. The game's oldest confrontation may be the focus of public attention now but being in a position to bid for matches at the ICC 2019 World Cup is the long-term ambition.

It would be fair to assume such improvements will be reflected in an increase in asset value for the ECB Test venues.

At the moment, England is being thrashed by India by a factor of about five to one, according to International Cricket Council figures.

Not that the Barmy Army, as England's cricket fans are called, will be thinking about that come Wednesday.

 

business@thenational.ae