YORK'S delayed Community Stadium took a step nearer to reality tonight when ruling councillors gave their backing to the next stage of the project.
City of York Council’s ruling executive met tonight, in front of a public gallery packed with fans, to approve the extra £7.2 million the complex is going to cost.
Work could now start as soon as this summer, but the council is having to borrow an extra £5.4 million and put in £1 million from its Venture Fund to bridge a budget gap.
Final approval still rests with a full council meeting next week, but the Conservative and Liberal Democrat-controlled authority is likely to continue backing the scheme.
Supporter Simon Pickering spoke at the beginning of the meeting, representing the Save our Stadium group.
He said that with the future of professional sport in York resting on the stadium project the councillors needed to give it their backing.
Although leaving Bootham Crescent would be a sad day for fans like him, they could all see the poor state of repair the existing stadium is in and the need for new facilities, he added.
He said: “Everybody listening to this can agree that the project has dragged on way too long, to the extent that professional football in the city is in jeopardy.”
But the approval was not without controversy, as Labour councillor David Levene brought concerns about delays and cost increases, project management, the future of Yearsley Pool, and the fact the clubs will not be in their new home until the 2018/19 season could leave the council owing compensation.
Cllr Nigel Ayre, the executive member for leisure, urged the rest of the executive to back the project, but blamed the previous Labour administration for “inexperienced and weak political leadership” and for a “byzantine” procurement programme used to find a builder and operator for the complex, before saying it was time to “draw a line” under the problems and move on.
Labour group leader Janet Looker spoke of concerns over significant delays, saying there had been for a long period of time “total silence”, causing the football club real worries.
She added: “When this was approved in May 2015 we thought it would be ready this September. Quite clearly that is slipping by two seasons, and that is significant for the football club who have to manage that delay.”
However, the plan got the support of all executive members, and will now be considered at full council on Thursday, March 24.