A feasibility study that could see Exeter City leave their St James Park home and relocate elsewhere will take place.
The Grecians have played at St James Park since their formation back in 1904 and recently a new was signed to secure the land and the ground, owned by Exeter City Council, for the club until 2046.
But with Exeter City Council shortly commencing the preparation of a new local plan to guide development of the city of Exeter over the next 20 years, the Club and Trust boards of Exeter City Football Club have agreed to a feasibility study, which will examine the benefits and disadvantages of moving to a different ground, as part of the Local Plan process.
It will explore what, if any, potential opportunities for a new stadium and sporting facility within the city is, and would feed into the Local Plan review.
An Exeter City spokesman said that the study was ‘not in any way a pre-cursor to a move’ but an ‘appropriate action by a responsible business to ensure we have considered all options’.
The Club and Trust boards have approved the football club’s participation in the consultation process, and speaking on behalf of both boards, a club spokesman said: “In the interest of total transparency both Club and Trust boards wish to inform our fans that we have jointly agreed to conduct a feasibility study around the benefits and disadvantages of moving to another ground.
“We are aware of opportunities that might arise through the emerging Exeter City Council Local Plan and wish to ensure that, should it be desirable, we place ourselves in an advantageous and informed position.
‘The supporter survey, conducted in 2018, informed us that moving to a new stadium is an option the majority of Trust members and non-members would only consider as a last resort and we fully intend to honour that view.
“However, it is important to understand exactly what ground relocation would entail, in terms of cost, general benefit, but also how it protects the sustainability of our ethos and ownership model, which has kept us in such good shape these past 17 years.”
Even before the coronavirus crisis, Exeter City were losing £750,000 to a £1m a year, and face up to six months without any regular source of matchday income after a return of fans to stadiums was put on hold by the Government this week.
Speaking about the finances, Matt Taylor had said the club’s turnover needs to improve and he way the club gets investments needs to keep developing, something that a potential new stadium could provide.
As part of the emerging Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, there had been talk of a new sports stadium and indoor concert arena being in the pipeline, and the draft site options document had included the potential of a ‘regional sports hub’ at both Hill Barton and the Culm Garden Village expansion.
But with East Devon District Council pulling out of the GESP process, those plans have been sent back to the drawing board, although the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands council leaders have met this week to establish a way forward for collaboration outside of the planning process.
The consultation process will involve talking to local authorities, consultants and developers, as well as a close examination of the Club’s needs, both now and in the future.
The spokesman added: “We do wish to stress that this is not in any way a pre-cursor to a move. As Trust members will know, they alone will make this decision should a decision ever be necessary. We hope Trust members and supporters will view this work as an appropriate action by a responsible business to ensure we have considered all options around taking us forward.
“Further, we would like to reassure fans that a new 25-year lease on St James Park has just been agreed and an application for the ground to become an Asset of Community Value has been submitted to Exeter City Council.”
David Lee who led the project team on the redevelopment of St James Park, and who has recently stepped down from the Club Board, will oversee this work. He will be providing regular updates to both boards.
Karime Hassan, CEO at Exeter City Council said: “The City Council has recently agreed a new 25-year lease for St James Park and has invested in the current ground with the development of the Stagecoach Stand.
“However, the council acknowledges the process to look at the long-term development needs of the city is just beginning and therefore it is sensible for the Club and Trust to get ahead of the Local Plan process and to satisfy themselves on the feasibility of alternative opportunities.
“The City Council will be under pressure to make rapid progress with the Local Plan and therefore there is only a narrow window to examine strategic options.”