After the brilliant news that the lease on the land surrounding Strawberry Place and St James’ Metro Station had been returned to Newcastle United, after being shamefully sold to developers by Mike Ashley, TF’s resident engineering and construction professional, Stephen Hodgson quickly assessed the possibilities and problems with a Gallowgate End expansion. As ever, we’re grateful to Stephen for sharing his expertise with us and giving those who don’t work in the industry a professional insight into the potential realities of what it will take to expand St James’ Park and what that might mean.
The significance of the exclusive by Craig Hope, of the Daily Mail,that United have repurchased the Strawberry Place land lease cannot be overstated. I’ve written before about the criticality of the land to the viability of a significant SJP extension and how it would be verification of the club’s verbal commitments to remain at SJP in almost all of my articles for True Faith. It’s not in dispute that we’ve certainly made a big stride towards both of those points now, but what does re-purchasing the lease actually mean?
In the short term we’ve heard the club are planning a fan-zone on the land. I’m not sure what to expect but what is certain is that it will be a welcomed use of unused land.
Longer term it really does open up the possibilities and reduction in cost of expanding SJP. The expansion will still be challenging but significantly easier than if there were buildings on on the Strawberry Place land.
From the outside looking in, the three main elements that need to be resolved before a proposal can really be fully developed are: the metro station, the metro tunnel and Strawberry Place (the actual road that the land takes its name from).
Now that the land is leased by Newcastle United, Nexus can be consulted, in greater detail,onhow to deal with a Gallowgate expansion sitting on the roof of the station, which it would be on the west corner. Tunnels aren’t massively complicated to deal with in scenarios like this but a station would be. Why?
Putting it simply, the station isn’t designed to have a major structure built on top of it. It’s therefore likely amendments would need to be made to enable the weight of the structure to pass through the existing St James’ Metro station. It could be that moving the station towards The Strawberry pub would be more cost effective and built into the foundations of the stand rather than the other way around.This would have also an added benefit for future Metro expansions by enabling the ability to be more flexible on tunnel routes and track gradients.
Strawberry Place, the road,would likely need to be diverted through the land, where the old car park is, or closed off permanently. Closing this road would not be easy I hasten to add as it is one of the main routes to the RVI Hospital.
We must also not just focus on the expansion of SJP. The land affords United other possibilities as well. The club will likely now own the design for the already approved office, hotel and housing development. They could integrate / amend some of this into the final SJP expansion to increase commercial revenues. The hotel is a very real possibility, at the very least, but it would be remiss of the club if they did not integrate additional corporate facilities into the expansion, even if they aren’t for The Gallowgate stand itself.
Many PL clubs use other facilities outside of the ground to provide corporate entertainment pre and post game. Why would they not use the land to do that?
How much extra capacity could SJP have by extending the Gallowgate?
Looking back at my notes I’d estimated a capacity increase of 7,000 but a 2007 interview with Freddy Shepherd notes that a Gallowgate expansion would add 8,000 seats. Either way this would take us to a capacity of approximately 60,000, even before you look at other options for SJP (e.g the East Stand).
Whilst I’m delighted the land has been purchased and it is a critical step towards expanding SJP, it is only a first step. The real test is, “Is expanding SJP financially viable?’ Financially viable means a number of things to a number of different people but it’s only the club’s view, and critically PIF that matter in this instance. Ultimately Newcastle United is still a business investment by all three parties.
They have been quite open Newcastle United FC is a long term investment. All investments have decision points,think tipping point of scales.
In my opinion, there will still be a decision to be made between staying or building a new stadium. A large part of that decision will be how much does it cost to stay versus how much does it cost to move elsewhere. I’ve covered how the club could approach this decision previously here.
It will be interesting to see what announcements United make from here on out. Will they announce that architects have been appointed to work on the project and set a timeline or will we get another exclusive from Craig Hope with the proposed plans to extend SJP as a whole sometime in the next couple of years?
It’s a waiting game but thankfully a much more positive waiting game than it was only a few weeks ago.
Stephen Hodgson – @StephenNUFC1892