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Everton’s stadium plans looked doomed as Elstone feels the heat

Walton Hall Park project looks as far away as ever

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Robert Elstone drew a stinging reaction from Liverpool City Council after suggesting the local authority were not offering enough support for the club’s proposed new stadium.

Speaking at the club’s AGM, Elstone denied that the club were going to the council with a "begging bowl".

Instead Elstone stressed the wider, regeneration benefits of the stadium project including 1,000 new homes and 30,000 square metres of leisure, retail and restaurant space.

But, according to the Everton CEO the project cannot continue without more open support from Liverpool City Council, who he says would stand to benefit so handsomely should it go ahead.

Elstone said:

"The message was that it is a huge, fantastic opportunity for Everton Football Club and because of that we are devoting a lot of time and resource to it.

"The next message was that it is a very challenging project and we referenced the number of 50,000 seater stadia that have been built in the last 15 years and, in truth, there is only probably one and that is Arsenal.

"Manchester City and West Ham have had a couple of nice gifts.

"Because it is really difficult what we have decided to do - and it is absolutely the right thing to do - is to try and establish a true partnership approach and to do that is reflecting how we might help and work with partners including the local authority and other stakeholders in the city and that is why we have developed a project that would transform the city and regenerate, certainly regenerate north Liverpool.

"As part of that we offered a deal that would be a net positive contributor to the city delivering economic benefit, social benefit and, indeed, delivering cash.

"Where we are now is that we need confirmation of the partnership terms that the stakeholders want to work to and that is critical in making the next step forward.

"But if there was a bottom line to it, or an enduring message, is that we cannot do it on our own. We absolutely cannot do it on our own.

"To achieve that partnership is it important that all the stakeholders view this in its entirety, as a project that can transform and regenerate north Liverpool and has to be much more than a new stadium for Everton with a few bolt-ons or add-ons and it’s our job to make the city, the local authority, the residents and the rate payers and all the stakeholders view it in that way, as something so big and so positive and so good for the city of Liverpool."

"So we are making all those commitments to deliver things that our partners want and need and will benefit our partners.

"It is not about going out with a begging bowl, it’s about delivering things that stakeholders want and need and putting a value on that.

"We have been thinking about Walton Hall Park for a couple of years and recognised at the out-set that to bring it to fruition we needed to engage with the entire city and public and private sector bodies that were going to help us.

"And that is why we have talked to health, education, community, social services and other aspects of the city.

"And why indeed we are talking to the local authority.

"It will take some vision, it will take some ambition but Everton sits here firmly believing it can be achieved and firmly believes that if we are to really move the club forward then this will be critical to that development."

In simple terms, it seems Elstone is trying get the project off the ground without an initial cash injection from the club, mainly because they just don’t have that cash lying around and are, understandably, unwilling to plunge deeper into debt.

Instead Elstone is trying to play to what strengths Everton still have, and that is as the focal point of the community.

A new stadium would attract investment and offer wider benefits to the community and stakeholders.

However, asking the council to come up with more cash looks wildly optimistic given it is still trying to balance the books in wake of drastic budget cuts.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson reacted furiously to Elstone’s suggestion that the council were not pulling their weight.

In a statement, Anderson said:

"I think that’s an insult to me and the council. This is a council that helped Everton by purchasing Finch Farm. We are trying to find a solution, so to say we are not working in partnership is an insult.

"We are still willing to talk but to say they have not got true partnership is not helpful."

Campaigners against the Walton Hall Park move also criticised Elstone for his comments about the council.

Friends of Walton Hall Park spokesperson Chrisie Byrne, said:

"Shame on the club for putting Mayor Anderson in the position he is in, because Liverpool is facing its worst cuts ever, vital services have been forgotten or cut or lost. People are suffering everywhere and he expects the Mayor to fund millions for a new toy for Everton FC. The fans have been fantastic - what we have proposed for is for the club to stay at Goodison Park and keep their history and for us to keep our history, which is Walton Hall Park.

"He is quoted saying he is not going with a begging bowl, it very much seems it is. It’s shameful, the club is actually coming out and saying ‘we want someone else to pay for our stadium’ - we are in millions of debt, it’s ridiculous."

"We all feel that they are giving up but that they need to blame somebody. The club is not taking responsibility for their failure, that’s their get out clause... For them this is a game, for us it isn’t. It’s not only our park, it’s our lives that will be affected."

The increasingly bitter and fractious saga leaves Everton’s new stadium plans once again in ruin.

It is a sad reality that Everton cannot afford to kick-start a new stadium project on their own so a partnership from sponsors, business and the local authority is the logical way to go.

But if Elstone expects more support from the council to equal more finance then he is in for a surprise.

With any redevelopment of Goodison apparently ruled out by the current regime all of Everton’s eggs are now in the Walton Hall basket.

But with the relevant parties increasingly divided and the ‘silver bullet’ of external investment looking unlikely, Everton’s dreams of a new, modern home appear as far away as ever.