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Gloucestershire Business News

Eco Park update: training zone seeks go-ahead

Nailsworth-based Forest Green Rovers are seeking a rubber stamp on the latest stage of their progress towards building a new £100m home adjacent to M5 Junction 13 at Eastington.

In the latest update to progress on the dramatic scheme, which will see the creation of a 5,000-seat stadium designed by global architects Zaha Hadid and constructed as a world-first from sustainable wood materials, the developers have asked Stroud planners to sign off the details of landscaping and car park provision.

The fine details relate to the most advanced element of the project to date, which will see FGR's men's women's and academy squads being able to combine their training locations. Currently, the first team train at Stanley Park in Chippenham, while Hartpury College is used by the women's team and academy players.

As revealed earlier this year, the new training centre will be called the Candriam Training Ground, in recognition of support from New York-based asset management and sustainability pioneers, Candriam.

Ecotricity, which is proposing the project, has now asked Stroud planners to sign off the details of a Landscape Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) which will pave the way for two training pitches to be finalised, on land just across the A419 from the site of the proposed Eco Park stadium.

The company told planners: "This LEMP covers the new hard and soft landscape features around the car parking and hard landscape areas. The plan does not cover the maintenance of the training pitches themselves. The management of the training pitches will be undertaken by the football club in accordance with their own specifications. The primary objectives of this LEMP will be achieved through maintenance prescriptions set out at the end of the report."

The application added: "The site consists of a single improved grass field of low conservation value. This field is surrounded by hedgerows, trees and fencing with a dry ditch also running along the southwest boundary. There is a Dutch barn and smaller outbuilding within the field next to the south western boundary hedgerow."

Soft landscaping will see existing hedgerows "retained and enhanced to provide habitat for invertebrates, suitable foraging and commuting routes for bats, breeding habitat for farmland birds, and feeding on hedgerow fruits for migratory birds wintering in the UK".

All existing trees will be retained, while shrub planting will take place as well as sowing of species-rich short grass areas, with "enhanced grassland, wild flora grass and flower mixes to provide habitat for invertebrates as well as birds and mammals which depend on them".

Paved car park surface will also be laid, as well as associated access paths and the car parking area will bat and bird boxes.

The bid to move ahead on training facilities comes amid online speculation among FGR fans that the timetable for the stadium itself may stall. After finding itself relegated from EFL League One after just one season, the club under new manager David Horseman is currently loitering in League Two's drop-zone (in 23rd place). Unless fortunes improve, it could face leaving the EFL next summer and returning to National League status, in English football's less lucrative fifth tier.

Many fans consequently fear that a consequent drop in fan attendance to games could diminish the momentum for progress on the Eco Park project.

However, in a document submitted with the original application, Ecotricity pointed out that while the intended stadium is proposed for a 5,000 capacity that matches the current New Lawn, architects Zaha Hadid have designed Eco Park to be flexible for capacity - and able to expand so that 10,000 fans could be accommodated.

It said: "The stadium can be expanded to that size by just the addition of more seats - without engineering works. It is thus capable of holding twice as many fans as the existing New Lawn stadium."

The document added: "Our intention is to have a 5,000 capacity stadium on opening in order to maintain a good atmosphere as our crowd sizes grow, rather than have a half empty stadium for a number of years. It's a pragmatic approach. Increasing the capacity to 10,000 will of course require a new planning application, but the stadium and its environs have been designed to accommodate this growth which is just not physically possible at the New Lawn.

"The cutting edge wooden design and the total enclosure of the viewing area will combine to make a unique experience and something far superior to what we have today. It will be a place that many people will want to come and see, not just football fans, but people interested in sustainability too, from all walks of life. The enclosed design and canopy roof will make it more weather proof for fans (which is a real problem at the New Lawn) as well as increasing the atmosphere and boosting the match day experience. This will all help us to grow our crowd."

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