We dig it! Work finally starts on world-first wooden stadium
By Simon Hacker | 22nd February 2023
Promising a £150m boost for the local economy and channelling a tidy £2m in business rates into Stroud District Council's coffers, it's felt like a long wait since the initial planning nod for Eco Park, Forest Green Rovers' new home at Eastington, was given in 2019.
But with the site next to Junction 13 of the M5 now cleared for hidden archaeological surprises, the plot is finally seeing some building activity.
Drilling deep bore holes into the subsoil and below, the initial stage of excavation for foundations seeks to establish the structural nature of the ground before final design on footings can be signed off and full-blown earthwork proceeds.
At its centre, Eco Park will house a stunning all-wooden stadium designed by British Architects Zaha Hadid, who also created the stunning Al Jahoud Stadium in Qatar. With seating for 5,000, the arena will represent a huge promotion in terms of a spectator experience (albeit with Forest Green Rovers currently struggling to stay in the EFL's League One, it may be many seasons before owner Dale Vince's dream for the team to play championship football in this opulent setting is realised).
Nevertheless, Forest Green's performance as a showcase for green innovation remains the main thrust of Vince's plan - and Eco Park will see that plan put into action.
"I think Eco Park will be a really big deal for Stroud district but also for the county and the region," said Vince as the bore hole work began. "We will have a world-class piece of architecture here and the green tech business park is exactly the kind of thing to create those kind of jobs in the green economy."
He added: "And then we will also have the nature aspects of the park in the canal and the sporting facilities. It will just be an amazing place."
As well as football, Eco Park plans to be be 80 per cent self-supplying in terms of energy demand despite incorporating a vast array of purposes, including 38,000 square metres of office space, 18,000 square metres for industrial space, a 100-room hotel, a 70-bed care home, parking for 1700 cars, 500 new trees planted and 1.8km of new hedgerows. Under the terms of a section 106 agreement, Vince is also expected to support the restoration cost of the adjacent stretch of the Stroudwater canal, creating a green corridor between Saul junction and Stroud centre.
Punchline says: "We've been holding our breath on this, so it's great to the first sod being cut as footing work begins. Dale Vince's vision, helped by local enterprise partnership GFirst LEP in its bid to attract green industries and knowledge-intensive sectors is edging closer. On completion, we will have a park that creates 5,000 jobs in total.
Ambitious? Sure, but look at this new breed of industrialist's track record with Ecotricity and the promotion, under his wing, of Forest Green Rovers as the world's greenest football team. On paper and virtually, the Eco Park Stadium is undeniably a thing of beauty; viewed soon by traffic on the M5 it's going to be a beacon for a clear message: Gloucestershire can really lead the way in green business. Build it, Dale, and they will come!"
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