In a lengthy letter to Everton fans, stadium development director Colin Chong confirmed the changes mean a decision on the planning application will be delayed until December, with building work beginning at the start of 2021 at the earliest.
Those changes include:
- The multi-storey car park being removed and a stepped plaza added to the West Stand, meaning fans will have a clear view of the river.
- The plaza will also create a covered walkway to protect fans entering the turnstiles and lounge entrances from bad weather.
- The West Quay will now become the car park with spaces for disabled supporters, with the solar panels originally on West Quay now moved to the stadium roof.
- The brick façade has been simplified and the Archibald Leitch lattice work patterns made more obvious in the brickwork.
- The overall height of the stadium has been reduced to meet Liverpool City Council’s guidance on World Heritage Site requirements, though the capacity has not been affected.
When the plans were originally submitted last December it was hoped approval would have been granted by the summer, with work beginning in the autumn. So this represents a fairly significant delay.
Not all of that is down the the design changes, though, with the global impact of Covid-19 also meaning some delays that are completely out of the club’s hands.
Though these changes do not require a new planning application, a 28-day council-led public consultation period is required for people to view the designs.
The club then say a special planning committee meeting is likely to be convened by the council at the end of the year to give their decision on the application.
There is a risk that the project could be ‘called in’ for review by central government, which would likely mean an inquiry before a final decision by the Secretary of State.
This is something Everton will obviously hope to avoid, given the costs any further delay would bring. The Toffees will hope their extensive consolation period last year and overwhelming public support for the project will negate the need for any further scrutiny by the government.
The main thorn in the club’s side continues to be UNESCO and the possible threat to the site’s world heritage status.
Historic England and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a heritage body acting on behalf of UNESCO, have raised concerns about the impact the infilling of the dock could have on the conservation area and are calling for the government to review the plans.
In his letter to fans, Chong expressed his hope that the club had done enough to allay those concerns:
“While we understand the position of these organisations, we also know that local politicians, the more than 60,000 people who took part in our public consultations, our business community and third sector stakeholders all have a different view and fully support our proposals. The local public has told us - in huge numbers - that they believe the public benefits of our plans far outweigh the suggested level of harm to the heritage assets.
That is not to say that the public do not appreciate the heritage of Liverpool’s world-class waterfront. They do. It is just that they would prefer to see our project come forward at Bramley-Moore Dock and see history and heritage showcased through a new vibrant development which respects and reflects our dockland history.”
Design team confirmed
Chong also confirmed the final design team that will oversee the building stage of the project.
Laing O’Rourke were already appointed building contractor, with Pattern appointed as the project’s technical architect.
It has now been confirmed that Buro Happold and Planit-IE have been retained as engineering consultants and landscape architects respectively.
The club will also now contact season ticket holders and those on the waiting list to find out what areas of the ground they would be interesting in buying tickets for, expectations of pricing as well as catering and entertainment in lounges, concourses and the fan plaza.
Though this is essentially yet another delay to the project, I don’t think the club can be blamed too much.
The design tweaks have been made in response to council requests, consultation feedback and heritage concerns. The coronavirus pandemic is also something no one could have planned for and was always going to cause some delay.
I understand the supporters’ unease given the litany of previous failed stadium moves, but these latest delays feel like a natural part of a complicated planning process rather than anything more sinister.
There were always going to be heritage concerns and threat of the project being ‘called in’, hence the detailed public consultation exercise last year. Funding is also only likely to be granted once planning has been formally approved.
I’m sure we will all feel a little better once planning is granted, funding confirmed and building work underway. But I don’t feel this little hiccup, in the midst of a global pandemic, threatens the overall project in any way.