We’d like to thank Stephen for taking a considerable amount of time to draft this detailed and highly informative piece regards potential plans for expansion of St James’ Park as well as a possible future move to a new stadium.

Stephen is a qualified Chartered Construction professional with considerable experience of managing projects in the £100ms of costs and value. We will be looking to bring Stephen onto a TF Podcast to talk through his article here and we’ll be inviting you questions as part of that discussion. 

Obviously, Stephen is also a Newcastle United supporter with an emotional investment in whatever happens to St James’ Park in the future – TRUE FAITH, Newcastle United Fanzine.  

 Demand for tickets far outweighs supply at St James’ Park and we aren’t even ‘good’ yet. We can’t even cater for our existing fan base let alone supporters yet to find us.

There will forever be an emotional and practical challenge. Emotional because St James’ Park is where we watch football. But most importantly where we fell in love with the sport and the club. Practical because the ground is landlocked and increasing the capacity from just over 52,000 to more than 60,000, whilst possible, would not be without significant disruption for a prolonged period. Not to mention at a high cost but more importantly, significant local and possibly national ‘activist’ / stakeholder objections.

This is a real challenge for our owners to deal with and one that needs to be handled carefully to avoid alienating parts of the fan base and the wider local community. As for a new stadium on a different site this will be very similar. So really our owners are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I am a lifelong Newcastle United fan and a Chartered Construction professional currently leading a major project in the North West of England. I’ve offered to write this article for True Faith to help look at the options available for increasing the number of supporters able to watch Newcastle United play football in the flesh.

I apologise in advance for the length of this article, but it’s a big topic to write about.

It’s easy to just to give an answer, but to truly answer the problem you first need to define the question. In construction we would call this a project brief. This is where the client (our owners) set out what they want to achieve.

‘What does a successful outcome look like?’ could be another way to describe it. One thing that is for certain is that up until the club releases their plan for dealing with the long-term capacity issue, we can only theorise.

Admittedly they have given us a steer already; however it feels like a short-term solution to the problem.

In February 2022, Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi gave an interview with George Caulkin for The Athletic, and stated that the club would be looking to extend St James’ Park to 60 – 65,000 and that a new stadium wouldn’t be considered as “it would be like tearing your soul out”.

My initial response was positive. This was an emotional response. With the benefit of hindsight I couldn’t believe they said it without some form of major caveat. Extending St James’ Park is not particularly easy. There is scope to extend, albeit there are technical and or legislative issues with each option.

If I was advising the club on developing the project brief, I would get them to review all stands before selecting a development option, or options. I would also advise them to include the assessment of a new build stadium to ascertain where land may be available but also to develop a generic comparison.

This should be done in conjunction with Newcastle City Council. This way, when choosing a direction, it is fully informed.

Once the review has been completed the preferred options into an appraise and select phase. At this point I would still advise exploring a new stadium solution as a benchmark of cost vs. value. Value does not always just mean profit, it could mean supporter experience as an example.

Before looking at what options are available for the expansion of St James’ Park, and new build options, it is important to look at some of the constraints that currently exist.

A little-known fact is that there is a sizeable conservation area spanning from Leazes Park to the North and Percy Street to the South. This includes parts of Strawberry Place, and all the way across to St Thomas Crescent.

Level 7 of the Leazes Stand and the multi-story car park are actually in the conservation area, which does demonstrate that you can still build in the conservation area.

Within the Leazes conservation area there are a number of listed buildings.

Those specifically affecting any East Stand expansion are; Leazes Terrace, which is a Grade I as most will know, but St James’ Terrace and the east side of St James’ Street also have Grade II listed buildings. St James’ Terrace actually appears to be more of an issue than Leazes Terrace as it is very close to the existing East Stand and would physically prevent any outward expansion unless demolished, as it would be within the footprint of any outward expansion.

So what are the options?

Gallowgate Stand

In 2007, Freddie Shepherd announced that the club was then looking to extend the Gallowgate and generate another 8,000 seats.

Taking our capacity to approximately 60,000. At the same time the proposal was to also build a conference centre and hotel on the land that was latterly sold by Ashley.

Following the same type of expansion as the Leazes and Milburn stand this feels about right, but possibly a little on the high side for just seating so must have included a band of corporate as well.

Technically anything is possible, but it is complicated by the proposed developments on the land that Ashley has sold even before we look at the Metro line and station. The Gallowgate stands structural design will need to take into account any impact it might have on the proposed developments as well as the Metro infrastructure.

This could be particularly complicated as the club don’t own the land to expand onto to make this less technically challenging.

Milburn Stand

It is possible to put another tier onto the Milburn Stand but without Barrack Road being reduced in size and or diverted it is not likely a realistic option. Let alone before the height of the stand is considered.

Leazes Stand

Again, it is possible to put another tier onto the Leazes Stand and the club have the needed land to do so. As per the existing Level 7 expansion this new tier would be in a conservation zone so it could be challenging to gain approval.

On the face of it, it doesn’t appear particularly difficult to do this but would attract stakeholder objections. I’d have concerns about the height but it would likely reflect the height of some stadiums on the continent.

This could be a viable option and may well be a fall-back solution. I know I wouldn’t like to sit up there and you’d surely need to pass a fitness test to be allowed up there due to the thin air…

East Stand

To put a couple of myths to bed, whilst it is possible to get listed buildings demolished, I don’t think there would be an acceptable reason for Leazes Terrace, including moving it ‘brick by brick’ as I’ve seen proposed on Twitter recently.

Assuming we could only look at a vertical expansion, rather than an outward expansion, the existing stand would most likely not be able to be extended vertically due to the existing construction methods.

This would mean that the East Stand as it currently is would need to be demolished and rebuilt. Something similar to the Dresden proposal that has been shared on Twitter would be technically possible, but it would still need to be within the existing footprint.

I would guess that this could increase the East Stand to somewhere between 8 – 10,000. However, the likelihood of achieving this could be quite remote due to Leazes Terrace and St James Terrace.

The main considerations to any vertical expansion by local authority planning officers, and English Heritage as a statutory consultee, would be would be two-fold.

Firstly, the right to light would be assessed. The East Stand as is, is likely at the borderline (if not above) for impact already so this would need to be factored into the design of the structure. Could light be passed through the structure?

Secondly the impact on the setting that the listed building is in. I can’t see how a vertical expansion  wouldn’t be considered to be detrimental. That said this situation with new structures reducing light to a neighbouring listed building and having modern structures next to listed buildings does happen in major UK cities fairly frequently.

It’s not impossible but it would likely be a long-drawn-out process which could impact the clubs’ reputation, if there is significant opposition.

There has been a recent interview in The Chronicle with Christian Lee, the architect who designed The Emirates and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He suggested incorporating Leazes Terrace into an East Stand expansion, but it fails to take into consideration St James’ Terrace and St James’ Street.

I’m sure the same proposal may be possible here as well and generate an enclosed arcade that keeps the buildings but we are now racking up the £m’s and it would be incredibly difficult to be confident of a final cost from the outset.

It could however allow a capacity of 70,000 +. This may sound like something from a fantasy movie to some, but anything is possible. It’s just a case of how much you want to pay and the challenge of gaining statutory approval to do it.

It is worthy of note here that Everton’s new stadium includes the repair and preservation of a Grade II listed dock, so major projects can interface with listed structures.

New Stadium

We’ve heard from the owners they want us to be the best team in the world. So, why would the best team in the world not have the best stadium in the world? Hence why I was shocked that a new stadium was ruled out by the owners back in February.

In my opinion the most viable long-term solution to get the best stadium in the world is to move to a different site. That way, you can maximise the size of the stadium whilst also providing a modern fan experience.

The location for a new stadium would be a hot topic for everybody in the region, not just Newcastle United fans. Who would want a super stadium on their back doorstep? Engagements will need to happen with more than just the supporter base.

The region’s local authorities all have strategic development plans. By engaging with local authorities, it may highlight some long-term plans for redevelopment and sites that would be acceptable to the council or councils.

The club may even be able to restart the Leazes Park stadium proposal that was abandoned in 1997. However, that would go against the city council’s protection of green and public parks policy that is currently in their development plan. So, a concession or a swap of land may be required in that instance at best.

Can we rebuild St James’ on the same site? Yes! There has also been another article in The Chronicle about turning the pitch 90 degrees which could then generate a 70,000+ capacity.

Again, this is possible and is a practical solution, but how would they have any meaningful crowd size during the project? Yes, you could generate some phasing plans to make it work but in real terms it would be extremely costly when compared to a straight new build.

Attendance would likely be sub 50% and the contractor would have to keep the pitch playable and provide safe access and egress for supporters on match days. There’s a reason why Spurs played at Wembley whilst they had their ground re-built, it was too difficult and costly to keep it open and it still cost £1bn. We could move out whilst the work is carried out but where would we play? The Stadium of Light is the nearest stadium of a decent size.

Recommendation& Budgets

How much would it cost to extend the Gallowgate and East Stand?

Difficult to say but you can use other expansions as a starting point. Around the league we have recently seen a few expansions. Main Stand, Anfield – £110m, Anfield Road Stand, Anfield – £80m, Riverside Stand, Craven Cottage – £80m to name a few.

I’d guesstimate, that with the complexities that the Gallowgate and East Stand have, the club could be looking at anywhere between £250m and 400m to extend to near 65,000. Does that generate value for money for PIF? Only they can decide that.

In addition to that outlay the whole stadium needs work to upgrade the fan experience to make St James’ Park compete with its peers. That could amount to a significant additional cost depending on the scale of the improvements.

Almost as much as a new stadium.

Everton’s new stadium looks to be costing around the £500m mark for a 53,000 capacity and The Emirates would cost about £525m today for a 60,000 capacity. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium came in at £1bn for a 63,000 stadium, Wembley in current market conditions would be about £1.3bn.

The Emirates and Everton’s new stadium costs are broadly the same on a £ per seat rate but Wembley and The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are well above that.

So, you can say, depending on a number of things like land purchase, new transport infrastructure and complexity of site, a new stadium could cost anywhere from £500m to £1.3bn

An important consideration linked to the redevelopment of St James’ Park is, if you need to reduce capacity during a redevelopment where do the existing season ticket holders go?

Not releasing any season tickets this year, or not in high numbers, could well point towards the potential for a new East Stand is at least still being considered.

What do I want? Well, my heart wants us to stay at St James’ Park, but that will prevent more fans from attending over time. I, like many others, enjoy my walk up to the ground, and this season my walk away from the ground as well.

My head, however, says that demand will continue to outweigh supply regardless of any St James’ Park expansion and we will need a new stadium.

What would I recommend to a paying client?

My recommendation would be to progress with the Gallowgate Stand in the short term, which they have already committed to, whilst at the same time exploring the possibility of expanding the East Stand vertically for the medium term.

The long-term option is then for a new stadium away from St James’ Park, unfortunately. A new stadium is the only way to solve the demand versus supply issue that the club has.

Any new stadium in the North East will take years to get approved and would be called in by the Secretary of State for review due to the sheer scale of it.

The owners are right to explore extending St James’ Park but it will be short and medium term measures at best. Ultimately, in my opinion, we will all need to get comfortable about moving to a new home but be prepared for it to take a very long time, 10-15 years at a guess, and possibly an even more polarising debate and consultation between fans and other interested parties.

Strap yourself in…it’s going to be a long one.

Stephen Hodgson – @StephenNUFC1892