The RFU will battle again with Twickenham residents and El Brute’s Planning Committee after it announced plans to redevelop the East Stand (the Rugby Road side) to increase corporate hospitality at the stadium. A heated debate at the recent planning meeting led to the Union’s plans to hold a Monster Jam at the home of rugby being sent back for further assessment of the environmental impact, as reported here on twickerati.
Last week’s RFU Council meeting revealed a £54 million proposal to extend the East Stand by 23,000 sq m across six floors for hospitality, conference events and food and drinks. Coming not long after spending £75m on upgrading the facilities for the Rugby World Cup, the scheme is the result of “a comprehensive review of ticketing and hospitality”, which highlighted problems of entertaining guests in areas some distance from their match seats. Here at <em>twickerati</em> we assume that the new suites will rectify this appalling situation, and corporate types will have to stagger now no more than a few yards from their lunch of beef fillet and Chateau Lafitte to their seats to fall asleep during matches.
What may worry locals the most is that the hospitality will be a “highly exclusive top-end offering akin to the Diamond Club at Arsenal”. Comparisons to the round ball game will raise the hackles of Twick-folk who are still in the dark over Chelsea Football Club’s approach to the RFU to play at the stadium while their Stamford Bridge home is redeveloped, plans for which were submitted this week. Former Twickenham MP Vince Cable told the RFU when first approached that they risked throwing away “a decade of carefully accumulated goodwill” from residents.
Where all the money comes from to pay for these investments is no secret with the Union boasting increased revenues of £208 million this year, up more than £50 million from the previous year, and before the £15 million profit from Rugby World Cup is taken into account. Despite England’s humiliating early exit from the World Cup, being the only host nation never to have made the knockout rounds, RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie’s package of £600,000 makes him one of the highest paid executives in British sport, and not just Ritchie by name. Criticism of the Union’s opulence and Ritchie’s tenure has come from its own Councillors, with concerns voiced about the effect of England’s early bath on grass-roots rugby clubs that are struggling for cash and retention of players.
Residents might be anxious that the plans to increase hospitality will not only lead to nine months’ disruption while the building work goes on, but a further widening of the gap between local rugby fans and those actually attending matches. While unlikely to be the types who pee in residents’ gardens after the match, the VIP cars bringing and collecting corporate hospitality-goers will only increase congestion on match days.
The designs for the redevelopment of the East Stand must go through regular El Brute planning procedures and residents will have to be consulted, a process that could take six to nine months. If approved, work is likely to start from December 2016 but would not disrupt or reduce the capacity of the ground for Tests.
[Contributor: Bill Webb-Ellis]