Everton’s plans to build a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock have taken a huge step forward after the club’s plans were granted approval by Liverpool City Council’s planning committee.
Outline plans for a legacy project at Goodison Park have also been given the green light during a planning committee meeting on Tuesday morning.
The stadium plans have now been referred to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick for final approval - standard procedure for a project of this size.
That process usually takes 21 days, though it could take longer given the size of the project and because of delays caused by the pandemic.
Once the government says yes - and it is anticipated that they will - then Everton are expected to confirm details of funding before beginning building work in the late spring.
Even if central government decide to ’call it in’ for an investigation by the Planning Inspectorate, the club are confident the plans will still be approved and have factored in any delays to the building process.
The 12-stage building process is expected to last 150 weeks, meaning Everton could be in their new stadium in time for the 2024-25 season.
Goodison Park legacy project
The club outlined their desire to leave a legacy behind them in L4 and not completely abandon a region that was their home for 130 years.
The outline plans include housing for local residents, a youth enterprise zone, an education zone as well as health, retail and leisure facilities.
As they were only outline plans there was not as much detail as the stadium project, with further consultation with local stakeholders needed before they are finalised.
Everton have said they will begin work on the project within three years of leaving Goodison for Bramley-Moore.
The permission will also be reliant on legal agreements being agreed.
What happened at the meeting
In a presentation to the planning committee, Everton chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale described the project as a “once in a generation opportunity”, not just for Everton but for the city of Liverpool as a whole.
The crippling impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only increased the need for projects of this size, which could inject billions of pounds into the local economy and create thousands of jobs.
Ian Jenkinson from estate company CBRE discussed the work that had gone into identify the right site, saying that Bramley-Moore was the only site that was viable.
He also highlighted the reasons behind the need to move, notably Goodison’s crumbling infrastructure and increasing demand for tickets - which includes 17,000 people on the season ticket waiting list.
Heritage concerns from Historic England and UNESCO were the main obstacles to overcome, so Jenkinson highlighted the club’s deep commitment to respecting and preserving the heritage of the docks, including the restoration of the Hydraulic Tower.
Jenkinson also pointed out that the site is currently derelict and any plans for people to be able to access the docks under the Liverpool Waters scheme wouldn’t happen for another 20 years, meaning the project would rapidly speed up the regeneration of the area, including investment in local transport links.
Everton stadium director Colin Chong confirmed financing was lined up and would be completed once planning and other issues were concluded.
Chong also outlined the the stage-by-stage construction process and what will be done to minimise disruption to local residents and businesses.
He also highlighted the overwhelming support for the project from the two-stage consultation process, describing it as a “unique” opportunity for the city.
The club predict that the stadium development will deliver £1.3b to the economy, more than 15,000 jobs and £1.7m in business rates.
The Everton panel then fielded questions from councillors on issues such as public transport infrastructure and the public consultations.
Liverpool Green Party leader Tom Crone was not on the committee but did comment at the meeting, calling for planning conditions to be added to the development, highlighting concerns over ecology, pollution, emissions and, er, bat roosts.
The planning officer who recommended the plans be approved in his report published last week outlined the thinking behind the decision, concluding that public benefits outweigh the heritage concerns.
There was also a powerful and emotive speech by Councillor Joseph Hanson - who is a red - highlighting the benefits of the new stadium, accusing Historic England of ‘pontificating’ and attempting to block a project that would bring so much benefit to the region.
A huge moment in Everton’s history
Be in no doubt, this is one of the most significant days in Everton’s long history. There is still one more hurdle to clear, but this is a giant leap forward.
Goodison Park, as much loved as it is, has been in dire need of modernisation for years now and the club will never fulfil its potential for as long as they play in such an outdated stadium.
I’m sure we would all love to stay at a modernised Grand Old Lady, but the chance to move to the docks, an area intrinsically linked with the history of the city, is too good an opportunity to turn down.
A project years in the making
Evertonians have understandably been nervous throughout this process given the litany of failed ground moves over the past 30 years.
Former chairman Peter Johnson first proposed a move to a new ground in Kirkby back in 1996. Since then we have failed moves to Kings Dock, Kirkby (again) and Walton Hall Park. Toffees fans had begun to wonder whether Everton would ever solve the stadium question.
But huge credit has to go to the club for the way they have approached this project at Bramley-Moore in almost forensic detail.
The dock was announced as the club’s preferred site more than four years ago in January 2017. Since then, the huge public consultation, acknowledgement of heritage and environmental concerns and the legacy project at Goodison Park has ensured that every base has been covered, refusing to rush any stage of the process.
We still have a way to go before a ball is kicked on the banks of the royal blue Mersey, but that dream has never been closer to becoming a reality.