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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

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Stadium: MP's furious attack on 'humiliating shambles'

COPELAND MP Jamie Reed has launched a furious attack on local government regeneration chiefs after West Cumbria lost the chance to host 2013 Rugby League World Cup games due to plans for a new £5.5 million stadium stalling.

The bombshell was dropped on Wednesday when stadium development partners declared that building at Pow Beck was not cost- effective and they had finally pulled out of tortuous negotiations with the Whitehaven Miners’ Welfare over land access.

Now they say they are exploring other options still to build at Pow Beck but there is no chance of staging the allocated World Cup matches featuring Scotland, Italy and Tonga.

Hosting the games was seen as a great showcase for West Cumbria and its announcement by the Rugby Football League was toasted with champagne.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed has called the situation a “humiliating shambles” and has warned Copeland and Cumbria County Council they are in danger of squandering a historic opportunity for an economic renaissance in west Cumbria on the back of the £2bn Britain’s Energy Coast plan.

“Britain’s Energy Coast is the best hope we’ve got of delivering on our ambitions for west Cumbria,” he said. “Those in local government, whether in the borough or county council, need to be honest about what they can achieve. There’s no place for amateurism in the development of west Cumbria. Those not up to it should get out of the way and leave it to those who know how to do it.

“I think the stadium will happen, but we are going to miss the World Cup which would have brought real recognition and investment to the area. The chance has been squandered and people will want to know why.

“It’s about credibility. I believe that all partners involved have to look at themselves and admit why this went wrong and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“This is the last chance saloon and more embarrassments like this will not be tolerated.”

The scheme’s backers – Copeland Borough Council, Whitehaven Rugby League Club and Whitehaven Amateur Football Club – insist the idea is not dead and the stadium could still be built. But they say it is not “feasible or affordable” to continue with negotiations with the Whitehaven Miners’ Welfare Association about an access route to the stadium across land the miners own. The miners say they are not to blame and have called for an inquiry.

The Pow Beck stadium saga has dragged on for 10 years and one of its most outspoken critics has called for the scheme to be scrapped altogether and attention switched to Hensingham’s Copeland Stadium – a Cumbria Centre for Sporting Excellence – as a possible alternative.

Coun David Moore, opposition Tory group leader on Copeland Council, said: “It is a complete and utter embarrassment. Too many people have chosen to ignore advice, with the result that we have now lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, not only that but two prestigious World Cup matches.

“On numerous occasions I have asked for information to show it would be financially viable and to pull back until proved otherwise.

“We should now start with a blank sheet and have a complete evaluation which would bring back into play the possibilities of moving the project to Copeland Athletics Stadium, which already has fine sporting facilities and room for expansion.

“I take little satisfaction in being vindicated over this but have never wavered from my stance. I have never seen any evidence to show that Pow Beck would be sustainable – but as I say, too many peopled have chosen to ignore advice at some considerable cost.

“Now we have an opportunity to look somewhere else such as Copeland Stadium – but not Pow Beck.”

In a joint statement, the Pow Beck stadium partners – Copeland Borough Council, Whitehaven Rugby League Club and Whitehaven Amateur Football Club – said: “Following a meeting last night [Tuesday] we have agreed unanimously that it is no longer affordable nor feasible to continue negotiations with the Whitehaven Miners’ Welfare Organisation and will instead look to develop the stadium in a new direction.

“The partners will continue to work together to move the stadium forward but will no longer be exploring the option of access over the Whitehaven Miners’ land. Positive discussions about other options for the development have already taken place and the partners are pleased to now be moving forward.

“Partners recognise that their new approach will lead to a delay in the project being completed but believe that it will ultimately help secure the sustainability of the project.

“As a result of this decision the opportunity to bring the 2013 Rugby League World Cup to Whitehaven is lost and the RFL has been advised of this.

“The partners are pleased that Britain’s Coast continues to support the stadium and look forward to working more closely with them, our nuclear partners and the RFL to make the stadium a reality.”

Even the Whitehaven Miners were shocked to learn that it was all off. Secretary Brian Birkett, who has been heavily involved in negotiations, said: “We are absolutely astounded. There have been no discussions or recent negotiations going on. All we asked for lately was clarification on 38 points over what they wanted to do on our land - all mundane matters.

"We didn’t ask for any money. What I’ve since heard is that what we are asking was going to cost £250,000 but I couldn’t see anything that was going to cost.

“We dispute that we have made any demands. We’d already agreed the price for selling access for the stadium and that was it.”

Mr Birkett said the original sum reported of £750,000 was rubbish. The settlement was much less. The Miners’ were still prepared to talk further if the stadium partners wanted to re-consider. “Our door is always open. We have members who are die hard Whitehaven rugby league fans. We have all wanted the new stadium to be built and for the World Cup matches to go ahead.”

He added that his organisation resented being cast as "scapegoats". 

The Rugby Football League said: “Despite much hard work and dialogue with the partners Copeland Council are no longer able to guarantee the building of Pow Beck stadium within the timescale required by the tournament.”

Sally Bolton, World Cup 2013 general manager, added: “When selecting Copeland as a host, the selection committee were very supportive of the idea of building a new stadium in Whitehaven as a way of growing the game in West Cumbria.

“The fact that Copeland Borough Council are no longer able to deliver that is disappointing primarily for the people of West Cumbria who will not benefit from being part of RLWC2013, the biggest sporting event in the UK to take place after London 2012.

“As the Copeland bid was predicated on the building of a new stadium, our strategy always included a robust contingency plan which has now been put in place and we will announce the replacement venues shortly.”

Most of the £5.5 million was coming through Britain’s Energy Coast funding obtained from Nuclear Management Partners.

BEC chairman Brian Wilson said: “Our support for this project has been unswerving and we share in the disappointment about the immediate implications of this decision.

“However the funding remains in place whenever a revised project emerges. In the meantime we will give as much practical support as possible in order to advance that objective.”

Have your say

Shouldn't the MP be supporting or giving some more spin for the the Council instead distancing himself? The Council have made a difficult decision and must feel let down by the comments in this article.

Posted by It's me again on 3 May 2012 at 16:35

I cant understand why if a new stadium will result in a super rugby leage team why not develop the football team into a premier leage outfit? Just imagine Whitehaven v Manchester United. Cumbria may produce good players who go on to play for clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire but two little towns will never provide the gate income that will support a super league side. The whole thing is a pipe dream supported by people who have something to gain from a council who hope a stadium would keep them in employment to a nuclear industry which hopes to sweeten the population and allow them to treat the area as a dump.
The only people to blame are the council who failed to oversee the development. They have people in planning departments and solicitors who should have seen this outcome and planned for it from the beginning. As the Labour MP says, as he quickly puts space between himself and the Labour council, the whole thing has been an amaturish fiasco.

Posted by Chuck on 3 May 2012 at 09:08

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