Stephen Hodgson is a construction engineering professional with experience managing major projects across the UK. He’s also a Newcastle United supporter and TRUE FAITH writer. We are grateful to Stephen for this article focusing upon the potential expansion opportunities of the East Stand at St James’ Park given the massive demand there is to get in to see matches. We have included other pieces penned by Stephen in case you’ve missed them and together with this piece we don’t believe there is a more expert and informed analysis of the issues linked to expansion of our traditional home. Follow Stephen on @StephenNUFC1892
The East Stand holds a special place in my heart, it was where I saw my first game at SJP, but regarding capacity it is a thorn in the owners’ side.
Before I get to the options the owners have to extend the capacity of the East Stand it’s important that I point out some key facts and context for people to be aware of and that will affect their decision making process.
Leazes Terrace is a Grade I listed building. This may not seem like much but according to Historic England, only 2.5% (or 10,000 of the approximately 400,000) of buildings that are graded in the UK, are Grade I. In the eyes of Historic England,Leazes Terrace is highly significant and of regional and national importance. In other words, we should stop talking about taking it down brick by brick or doing a ‘lift and shift’ method to move it away from SJP. It’s here to stay, so whatever happens, it will have to be done taking into consideration any impact that work to the East Stand may have on those buildings and its setting.
You may have also noticed that part of the East Stand is overhanging the footpath and parking spaces outside of it. Was it designed like this to reduce the impact to Leazes Terrace? If so and the entire footprint (including overhanding areas) can’t be built on, then this really would restrict the options available for re-development of the East Stand.
St James’ Street and part of St James’ Terrace are Grade II listed and could well pose a greater threat to an upward and or outward expansion than Leazes Terrace. Whilst Grade II is a lesser category and holds 90% of the listed buildings in the UK, the buildings are still considered to be of significant historic value to list them.
For those that don’t know that side of the ground well, Google it or look at the image at the start of my first stadium article (here), which is a great angle to show the problem. You’ll see that St James’ Street is running perpendicular to the East Stand, a matter of meters away, about a third of the way up the East Stand from Strawberry Place.
St James’ Terrace runs parallel to the East Stand from St James’ Street, past the Strawberry corner and to Strawberry Place. To do anything to the East Stand, and possibly the Gallowgate as well, would likely need to have agreement, or as a minimum, no objection from Historic England. I’m sure somebody could present a case that these buildings are of less importance than the economic value an expanded SJP would bring to the city centre.Hopefully people can see that, even if the club owned them all it would be controversial to propose to demolish them.It would also go against the ‘club of the community ’that’s being aimed for.
That said, it would make an East Stand expansion much easier, raising the question;would the cost of buying these properties be too costly to enable it? Liverpool spent years buying up the houses surrounding Anfield under pseudonyms to avoid increased prices, that ship has long since sailed for the owners!
Now turning our attention to gaining planning permission for a major city centre scheme. In simple terms it’s complex due to the impacts both during and after construction but planning approval is not simple. After submittal of a planning application Newcastle City Council would validate the application i.e. does the application include all the information to comply with town and country planning law and provide enough information to enable the council to make a decision on the application. Once validated an application for an East Stand, and or Gallowgate stand for that matter, would fall into a statutory minimum of 16 weeks for a decision, approval or refusal, to be made.
Given the likely controversy that any extension to SJP could cause, the duration to make a decision could in fact take years and it would be prudent for the club to be engaging regularly with Newcastle City Council members to gain general support for a scheme before formal submittal of a planning application.However, support from the council, and even the local MP, doesn’t mean the Council’s planning department would approve it automatically.The planning application would also need what is called an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which would be required to address the impact to the heritage of the surrounding area, amongst other things.
As I noted in my first SJP development piece, SJP borders a large conservation area, which includes Leazes Park, LeazesTerrace,St James Street and Terrace, buildings towards the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and down to Percy Street.To see the scale of this please look at the council’s Leazes conservation plan by clicking here and go to page 7. Whilst it’s not impossible to build in a conservation area, indeed Level 7 of the Leazes Stand has already been built in the Leazes conservation area, the impact of any expansion will need to be considered and likely agreed with the council ahead of the application. An application without agreement or at least demonstration of stakeholder engagements, could be rejected or not validated.
We also must think about right to light in relation to the East Stand development. Right to light is a legal requirement for every building, even if it’s an office and not a residential property. What does right to light mean? It means that building owners have a right to natural light entering the property, and or land, through defined apertures (hole, gap, window, door etc). What it does not mean is direct sunlight, so the orientation of the building affected, and surrounding buildings could mean that building, or East Stand expansion in our case, could be built without removing somebodies right to light.However, a right to light survey and assessment would be needed to define this. From my experience it’s not an exact science. It’s not unheard of for two companies to survey the same building and have different results.
Another point of note is you could satisfy the local authority you have not breached somebodies right to light and have a planning permission approved, but it’s a civil court matter not a planning matter. So, a building owner could in theory take the club to court for breaching their right to light, even after the stand was completed. If the club, or an affiliated third party, owned the building or buildings in question i.e.,Leazes Terrace, St James’ Street and St James’ Terrace then right to light may not be an issue from a civil perspective but could still be a concern to the planners.
I had initially considered safe standing to be an option to expand the capacity of the East Standby up to 80%,based on what I’d read online. However, on further research this is only applicable to lower league grounds. The top two leagues are still required to have a single seat per person, but with rails to enable safe standing. This would mean that safe standing, whilst beneficial to a lot of fans, from a safety and experience perspective, it wouldn’t increase the capacity at a Premier League club. As part of the safe standing licence clubs must also have enhanced CCTV to safe standing areas, due to standing still being considered a risk to disorder at football matches.
You’ve probably got the gist by now, if you didn’t already before reading this, that expanding the East Stand is not going to be easy, but I don’t think it’s impossible to increase the current 5,000-person capacity.
So, what is possible?
I’ve tried to include a range from the relatively simple to extreme and a controversial option thrown in there for good measure.
Option 1 – Lowering the pitch. This is a realistic proposal that would increase the overall capacity of SJP, not just the East Stand, and shouldn’t cause any impact to Leazes Terrace or the other listed buildings. That said the impact of doing this would be that the stands would be incredibly close to the pitch, as they are at say, Goodison Park. This is also not something that could just be done over the summer, with disruption continuing into the season to complete the seating expansion to the four stands.
As a guestimate I think that this would only increase the capacity of SJP by about 3,000 seats as it would likely only provide an additional four rows of seats. I’d guess that 1,000 of these seats would be in the East Stand. I can’t find anything that prevents this under stadium building guidance but there may be an FA requirement that I’ve missed for a ‘safety border’ to be in place between the stands and the advertising hoardings. If so, this could restrict or prevent this option.
Option 2 – The Dresden proposal. This has gained some traction on Twitter, and rightly so, it’s a good proposal. As shown here, it has a partial cantilevered second deck (overhanging second deck supported at one end only) but in a compressed footprint.If this was to be built in the same footprint in the East Stand currently is and working on a cost of £60m-80m to demolish and re-build (educated guess) it could take the club 70+ years to recover the investment as this would only likely add say 2,000 extra seats.This is not good value for money. Let’s not forget our owners are ultimately here to get a return on their investment, that’s what their business model is.
So why would it not add many seats? The support for the cantilever comes from the rear as you can see in the picture. If we are indeed stuck to the existing footprint something of the scale shown in the image would not possible. The existing footprint represents about 32 rows in the East Stand, in the image this matches the lower tier of seating only. Therefore, in order for this to be a realistic solution there would need to be a proportion of the existing footprint, and therefore capacity, given up supporting the cantilevered second deck.
You may have noticed I’ve not yet mentioned the problematic increase in height that would be required to enable a second deck. That said it is however a realistic solution to go vertical and increase capacity, but it needs to be looked at, in depth, by architects, engineers, and other consultants to develop a real plan solution that enables a greater increase in capacity or a cheaper build solution. It most certainly shouldn’t be unilaterally dismissed as an option until it has been considered in detail.
Option 3 – Converting the East Stand into a corporate stand. Before continuing I’ll add I think this is an awful option, but it is something that could happen, in full or in part. If you can’t extend it why not repurpose it? What is to stop the club from moving some or all the East Stand season ticket holders to a newly expanded Gallowgate stand, and remodelling the East Stand to provide corporate facilities, be it boxes or simply left as is and corporate facilities being provided from the expanded Gallowgate. Whilst highly unpopular I’m sure it would significantly increase the revenue from match days. Essentially, the club did this with the Milburn / Leazes extension when fans were moved from the middle tiers to make way for more corporate seats.
Option 4 – Creating an ‘arcade’ over the listed buildings. Back in May 2022,The Chronicle interviewed Christopher Lee, the architect for the Emirates and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (click here to read the full article). He proposed that Leazes Terrace could be maintained and included in an arcade that would be built over the top of it.
Not wanting to discredit a clearly very talented and competent architect but the article doesn’t address the other Grade II listed buildings which I think really complicate this proposal. Unless they are demolished as part of this proposal. Is it possible, yes, anything is possible but as he notes himself, it would be challenging to gain approval.Ultimately,it’s not just a roof, it’s a roof over some buildings and that would need to support a minimum of 9,000 fans in a L7 equivalent East Stand. T
he arcade and stand above it would be a huge undertaking and could be about two thirds the size of the existing SJP footprint. This option could enable a ‘full bowl’ stadium with a capacity of 70,000+, assuming the Gallowgate can be expanded of course. Personally, I think the probability of this actually happening is very remote and the East Stand and arcade alone could easily cost in excess of £300m, even before you include property and land purchases that are required to enable it.
If we ignore the East Stand arcade as an option, as I’ve noted capacity potential above, what could these options mean for SJP?
I think it’s important to combine options to maximise capacity. When considering a 7,000 seat expansion of the Gallowgate, a 3,000 seat increase due to pitch lowering and a 2,000 seat increase, following the Dresden design proposal for the East Stand, it would take us up near a 65,000 capacity. Does this satisfy the demand? I don’t think it would and I’m not sure it represents value for money for the owners but it would be cheaper than building a new stadium.
As I said in my Strawberry Place article, the owners ’true intentions about staying at SJP or not could be made clear in the not too distant future.Not by any grandiose launch of expansion or relocation plans but simply if they purchase the lease for Strawberry Place back or not. If they don’t, as you can see, there are limited opportunities for expanding SJP, if the Gallowgate is either restricted or not possible.
One thing is for certain, no matter what happens, the solution that the owners propose will not please everybody so prepare for a #nufc meltdown regardless.
Stephen Hodgson – @StephenNUFC1892