The shelved plans for a 60,000-capacity St James's Park that will interest Newcastle United's new owners
It was an ambitious – and costly – plan.
And I was reminded of it following last week’s takeover of Newcastle United by an ambitious, and well-funded, investment group fronted by Amanda Staveley.
In April 2007, days after a disappointing home defeat to Manchester City, the club went public with a proposed £300million development of St James’s Park and the land around it.
There were proposals for a luxury flats and a hotel as well as a conference centre. More significantly, the club floated the idea of expanding St James’s Park at the Gallowgate end of the stadium to take the stadium’s capacity to 60,000.
Speaking at the time, then-chairman Freddy Shepherd said: "What we’re proposing is something not just for the club, but for the whole city and the people of Newcastle. The whole project will stand as a monument to vibrant development of the city."
The club was in the process of submitting a planning application for phase one of the development – a hotel on the site of the old Magpie Supporters’ Club on Barrack Road.
Nick Forbes, then a councillor for the Westgate ward, said at the time: "I can't see how the club could possibly squeeze anything else on the existing site. The last thing the city needs is yet another block of luxury apartments."
However, things would be overtaken by events, as Mike Ashley started buying up shares in the club the following month – and he was soon in full control.
The plan was ditched by Ashley, who spent a pittance, in Premier League terms, on club infrastructure in his 14 years as owner.
Also, Ashley, significantly, sold Strawberry Place, a parcel of land behind the Gallowgate end previously owned by the club, for £9million in 2019.
A £120million development of the area was controversially approved by Newcastle City Council’s planning committee the same year despite more than 1,700 objections, many from United fans concerned that the scheme would prevent future expansion on that side.
The high-rise development will change the city’s skyline – and partially block views of the stadium.
Supporters felt that the land sale was shortsighted given the club’s potential. Many fans have wanted to see the club’s iconic home expanded further since its capacity was increased to 52,000 in 2000.
Newcastle have been able to fill that stadium without success, so, clearly, a successful team could pull in many, many more fans.
So what about those original, tentative plans? Shepherd – who passed away in 2017 – recalled them seven years ago.
“It would’ve increased it by around 8,000 to take it over the 60,000 mark,” said Shepherd. “We did a lot of work on it, but the costs got out of control.”
It was costly, but, crucially, it was doable.
Newcastle’s new owners, of course, have deep pockets – and they’re in it for the long term.
Work is yet to start on the Strawberry Place development, which includes offices, apartments and a hotel, and supporters can only hope that there’s some way that the stadium, hemmed in on one side by the listed Leazes Terrace, can be expanded in the future.