Performing the official “Ground-Breaking” ceremony today were the Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council Cllr Keith House and The Ageas Bowl Chairman Rod Bansgrove. Representing the Contractors, Denizen, were the SW Area Manager Howard Pearson and the Project Manager David Wharton.
The Ageas Bowl, formerly known as the Rose Bowl, is the home of Hampshire County Cricket Club. A naming rights deal agreed in February this year saw the name of the facility changed as part of a sponsorship deal agreed with insurance company Ageas.
Although named after its sponsors, the facility is now owned by Eastleigh Borough Council and will be leased back to Rose Bowl PLC, the company that operates the Ageas Bowl. The principle that underpins that rescue of Rose Bowl PLC, is that the income that the Council receive from that arrangement will be used to repay the loan taken out by the Council with the surplus used to protect services and reduce inflationary pressure on Council Tax.
Besides that rescue, Eastleigh Borough Council are also investing in the development of the new hotel, conference and media facilities at the Ageas Bowl, which will be situated in a commanding position at the northern end of the ground, overlooking the pitch. This investment has been in the pipeline for several years, but was delayed by a judicial review and the complexity of the negotiations, which had to ensure that public money was being used correctly. When complete, this development will further add to the revenue that the Borough Council expect to receive from the Ageas Bowl.
With arguments won, deals struck and documents signed, contractors have finally been able to start work on the construction of the new facilities.
These will include a 175 bedroom Hilton hotel with bars, restaurants and a function room facing onto the pitch, a state-of-the-art media centre, a Spa and Leisure Club and a club-house for the new 18-hole golf course that is also being constructed nearby.
Once complete, the ground will become Britain’s only “Model Test Match venue” as defined by the England and Wales Cricket Board, with a capacity of 25,000. The Ageas Bowl is already set to host the 2014 Test against India and a One Day International against Australia in 2015, and is looking forward to more.
At todays ceremony, marking the start of construction work at the site, Chairman of the Ageas Bowl Rod Bransgove said;
“Its a massive day for the Ageas Bowl, as we start the final stage of the development of this amazing stadium into what should be the finest Test Match ground in the country.”
“We’ve got a Test Match scheduled for 2014 against India and that’ll be the opportunity for us to debut as the first model category A Test Match ground. As well as that, of course, we’ll be bringing residential options to the area, which hitherto it hasn’t had.”
When asked if this was a ground-breaking day for the Council as well as the construction project at the Ageas Bowl, the Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council, Cllr Keith House said;
“Yes, it is. Very much so. There is a genuine excitement here today. It has taken a long time to put this project together. It hasn’t been at all easy, but the Council has been absolutely committed to making a success alongside the club, because we share the clubs vision. This is about jobs and prosperity. It is about growth for the Cricket Club. £50m to spend every year, 500 jobs, is something that no Council in their right mind would turn away from. We’ve had the vision to sign up for that and its a terrific day for Eastleigh.
When asked if he had any concerns about the future of this project, for example if control of Eastleigh Borough Council passed to the Conservatives, Cllr House replied;
“I think the Conservatives have played the opposition card all the way along the line with this. I suspect that in practice, that in the very unlikely event that the Conservatives were to gain seats and take control of the Council, they would need to remain committed to the project. The Council’s got an investment in the scheme. Its the potential to make a terrific economic return to the Council. It would be pretty foolish for anybody to walk away from it, unless they want to put up Council Tax and cut services.”
Asked about the impact of the construction work on the local area, particularly mud left on roads such as the nearby A27, Howard Pearson, SW Area Manager for Denizen said;
We’re intending to keep the material that we are excavating on site. The area adjacent to the car park is where the excavated material from here will go. There is an agreement for a large volume of excavated material to go over onto the golf course. Removal from site will be very minimal. We’ll have cleaning facilities on each of the exits from the site.
One of the arguments put forward for the Council investing in the project was the number of construction jobs that it would bring to the Borough. When asked how many jobs would be local jobs, Howard Pearson said;
We’ll be employing as many sub-contractors locally, within a 30 mile radius of here, as we can. In the final solution, once the building is operational, all of the resources for the operation of the building will be recruited locally.