Ever since news of Everton’s proposed move to Bramley Moore Dock was revealed in 2016, the club have promised to update supporters whenever there are concrete developments. They maintained that promise late on Wednesday evening with the launch of a dedicated website and news that a public consultation will take place next month.
Some supporters immediately seized on the fact this may well delay the stadium’s opening until 2023, while reports of a 50-55,000 capacity is below what some fans were hoping for. And while I can understand their frustration, I can’t helping feeling the criticism going the club’s way in this case is unfair.
Much like Marco Silva’s team on the pitch, the club are weighed down by the ghosts of failed stadium moves past and every delay or setback is judged in that context. Don’t forget Everton have been trying to move or redevelop their stadium for more than 20 years.
We have seen a litany of failures in that time, including failed proposals at Gillmoss, Kirkby, Kings Dock and Walton Hall Park. It’s perfectly understandable that supporters view every delay with suspicion, we’ve seen it all before after all. But for the first time I genuinely believe the club have a viable project everyone can get behind and - crucially - the means by which to deliver it. They cannot continue to be blamed for mistakes made by previous regimes.
The same goes for the much discussed question of capacity. Personally I would have no issue with 55,000 provided there is potential for expansion built into the plans. I doubt there are many stadium construction experts amongst us and even those who are, they do not possess all the information the club has. For me the scale of the project as a whole is a clearer indication of the club’s ambition than the number of seats. Lets wait and see what the plans have to say when they are revealed next year.
We are all reluctant to move away from Goodison Park, but if the club were to move from their spiritual home then an iconic stadium on the waterfront is the only palatable option. We all thought we had missed our opportunity when the Kings Dock project collapsed due to lack of finance in 2003, Bramley Moore is a second chance we simply have to grasp.
But while a new home on the dock is a fantastic opportunity, it is also by far the most complicated option. Bramley Moore is located on an UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning there are complex planning regulations that need to be adhered to - this is no brownfield site on the edge of a motorway.
Such a complex project will take time and Everton are right to work closely Liverpool City Council, Historic England, UNESCO and other relevant parties to ensure all their demands are met. And the club should be applauded for their legacy plans for Goodison Park. It would have been easy for them to simply sell off the land and plough the cash into the new ground. But again they have taken the admirable but more complex option of keeping the land to ensure Everton will always have a presence in L4.
That means a second set of plans and a second set of consultations, doubling the workload and significantly increasing the cost.
Speaking of cost, funding for the stadium has yet to be secured but it seems Everton will now go down the private route rather than through the previous agreement with Liverpool City Council. For me that is a great shame as the people of Liverpool will now miss out on around £7m a year that could be used for much needed frontline services, all because some people bitched and moaned because they didn’t understand how the process worked. The Council were never going to pay for the stadium, nor was it going to come out of their budget. But I guess some people put the allegiances of their club before their city and as a result everyone will now miss out.
By launching such an expansive and comprehensive consultation process Everton are showing they have learnt from the previous mistakes. They understand that such a project is potentially divisive and will affect hundreds and thousands of people, so they are right to consult with them every step of the way. Then there is the planning aspect; the club will be desperate for the project not to be ‘called in’ by the government, which could significantly delay building work, if not kill it off completely.
Each announcement made by the club has been a decisive step forward in the project, even if things are taking longer than we have hoped. This latest announcement does at least offer a definitive time frame and if they let it slip, then maybe some criticism will be deserved.
But for now, much like the players, we need to show patience and faith in the club. We’ve waited so long for a new stadium we can wait a few more years to ensure they get things right.
We also need to take advantage of the consultation and have our say, as this is a decision that will affect all of us for years to come.