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Nine Years and Still a Work in Progress
By Charles Mckay

Plans for the new Swindon track

At the end of the 2015 speedway season, Belle Vue and Swindon fans, were expecting to start their 2016 seasons in new stadiums after what seemed to many far too long in the planning system. In issue 58 of The Voice I outlined the differing approaches adopted by the two promotions to keep their fans aware of the progress of the plans and this difference has continued during the winter. Belle Vue announced the date of their opening meeting and kept posting progress photos on their web site whilst Swindon held what their called a farewell meeting at the "old" Abbey Stadium and promised their fans that the new stadium would be built in time for the 2016 season without telling their fans that a full planning application had not been submitted to the local authority something that was not done until early in 2016 and it looks increasing likely that the Robins will stay in the "old" Abbey throughout the 2016 season.

Of course everyone agrees that the postponement of the opening meeting at the National Speedway Stadium due to an unfit track was a disaster the stadium itself came in for much praise and I am sure that in time the circumstances of the meeting will be forgotten even by the chairman of the BSPA. The only way we can judge if the "new" Abbey Stadium will be worth the wait is by examining the plans submitted to the local authority and anyone can do this by visiting the Swindon Council web site, www.swindon.gov.uk/info/20030/planning_and_regeneration and registering their details.

2007 Outline Planning Application

The purpose of making an outline planning application is to establish if a proposed development is in principle acceptable to the local authority regarding its use and location and how this would affect other local residents. Matters such as the final design, materials etc are classed as reserved matters and are dealt with in the following full application if the outline application is successful.

The outline application received approval in June 2007. The documents submitted with the application stated various reasons why a new stadium was required such as

  • need to upgrade to compete with other racing stadiums in southern England

  • opportunities for support and investment have been lost to other sites in Swindon and competing stadiums within the region are now starting to draw away trade from the Abbey Stadium

    The developers promised the council that "the new stadium building design will utilise contemporary materials to create an elegant and exciting leisure building for this particular site. A limited palette of flat panelling and high performance glazing together with a curved metal roof will provide an architectural match with the Motorola building whilst creating a low building type suitable for good spectator viewing... external structure could provide attractive landmark vista points "and that "the new stadium building will follow from the contemporary stadium model that has been developed by Gaming International on other sites in the UK"

    So what did the above actually mean when you strip away the usual architectural buzz words often found in outline application documents and architects pr releases?

    The proposals showed a grandstand the full length of the home straight similar in profile to that at the NSS but terracing replacing the seats. The roof although it did not extend over much of the terracing, may be it does not rain very much in Wiltshire, was very architectural being supported on masts and cables. The ground floor level of the grandstand contained the indoor market area and catering and beverage facilities for both the market and the stadium users. The first floor was given over to the main "racing facilities" i.e. a restaurant and lounge/café bar area overlooking the track. The grandstand orientation was aligned on a north east axis to minimise the impact of the setting sun on spectator viewing, so no sun breaks.

    Looking at the drawings submitted there are a few aspects of the design which based on years of watching speedway in hundreds of stadiums ranging from the pea field at the first Conference meeting at Linlithgow to the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. The problem areas are as follows

    Viewing from the first floor restaurant/bar area. How do people using the area see the racing whether it's the dogs or speedway when people are standing on the terracing as the floor to the first floor appears level and not tiered?

    Would the track if built as the submitted plans get a SCB track licence? I doubt it due to two aspect of the design which can only have been caused by the designer never actually seeing a speedway meeting. The first problem is that the drawings show the usual fence between the spectators and the dog track and the dog track and the speedway track but for some unknown reason there is a further fence shown on the inside the speedway track. The only possible reason I can think of for the inner fence is that the designer thought it was needed to prevent riders if they run off the track hitting one of the cars using one of the 185 parking spaces shown on the infield.

    Of course no doubt in the nearly eight and a half years since the outline application was granted these "slight" problem aspects of the design has been ironed out by the designers and the end users.

    2016 Full application.

    In early 2016 a full planning application was submitted to Swindon Council. The first thing that the submitted drawings show is that since 2007 the accountants and the quantity surveyors have been busy carrying out a value engineering exercise and the design of the grandstand is very different from the one granted outline permission.

    The same words are used to describe the design of the grandstand but in truth the grandstand looks much smaller and less impressive in the final scheme and rather than being an "elegant and exciting leisure building" or "contemporary stadium model" as promised in 2007 it looks like a tin shed with balcony.

    So apart from my views of the architectural merits of the design have the eight and a half years been put to good use to design out my concerns regarding aspects of the 2007 design been addressed?

    The 2016 grandstand is much shorter in length, the 2007 one was shown as running the full length of the home straight (approx 110m) whilst the 2016 one is 37m long.

    The problem of people standing on the terracing preventing people in the restaurant/bar areas viewing the racing has been overcome by moving the terracing to either side of the grandstand, The design and access statement says" it is important that the main stadium has views over the track at first floor level" and "restaurant with waiter service ..more informal area where people will stand in groups and mingle whilst waiting for the races to begin. The large windows and balcony will enable spectators to watch the races: in addition there will be a number of large screens showing the action"

    There is one slight problem with this solution - as the floor is level, so that it can be used for functions on non race dates, the people at the rear of the area, five tables back, will be some 30m away from the edge of the track. It must be doubtful if they will see any of the racing especially if people are standing around the bar area or on the balcony which runs along the front of the grandstand. Maybe the large screen TV's in the bar area will be useful.

    On the plans there are two areas labelled on the ends of the balcony as Sp Control and Gr Control. I am assuming that these are the control areas for the greyhounds and the speedway aka the referees' box. Just a couple of problems with this firstly the SP Control area is not opposite the start finish line, some refs appear to make wrong decisions when they are in line with the start finish line never mind when they are metres behind it and secondly there appears to be no enclosure around the "box" it appears to just an area on the balcony. This could be uncomfortable if the weather turns wet or cold and what stops fans having heated discussions with referee if they disagree with their decision.

    There are now 3 areas of terracing shown. One to each side of the grandstand, each 7 tiers high and 25m long, and another of similar height but 36m long on the back straight. There are no detailed drawings of these terraces so I assume that these are uncovered.

    Without knowing the exact details of these terrace areas (number and layout of crush barriers) it is impossible to state the capacity of these areas but according to the figures quoted in the "The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds" it could vary between approx 2400 to 1850, although it should be bound in mind that speedway fans tend to bring fold down chairs and bags with them so these figures could be reduced ,whilst the grandstand has a capacity of 430 and so with a total stadium capacity of 3500, down from the present 4950, this leaves a short fall of between 670 and 1220 to be spread around the rest of the stadium. I assume that these will be spread on the home and back straights as following the introduction of air fences viewing around the bends is restricted unless there is terracing to allow you to see over the fence and there appears to be insufficient space for such terracing.

    There are no sections through the stadium but the plans do not show a fence to the inner edge of the track but rather worryingly there are three gates shown between the track and the infield. The question must be asked why have gates if there is no fence.

    The plans no longer show any parking on the infield but after looking at the number of parking spaces required in the travel plan, 572, and comparing this figure with the actual number of car parking spaces shown on the submitted plan I am not sure if the infield parking has been removed or they have just forgotten to show it. The travel plan item 1.8 requires "a total of 572 parking spaces will be provided on site for the stadium Greyhound and Speedway events with 192 bespoke parking spaces within the stadium, 180 parking spaces around the Stadium and 200 overflow spaces".

    I have assumed that the words "within the stadium" means that these spaces are within the perimeter of the stadium i.e. inside of the security fence. Counting the spaces shown on the acoustic plan (drawing 0130) I have the following figures overflow 227, around the stadium 240 including 11 disabled and a further 5 spaces in the pits area so there should be 100 spaces within the stadium but none are shown and there appears to be only one area they could be located -yes as in the 2007 scheme on the infield.

    The internal layouts as shown at present will require some further fine tuning regarding toilets and disabled access to meet both Building Regulations and British standards. The toilet layouts appear not to comply with Building Regulations both in terms of types of cubicles provided, enlarged and ambulant users, as well as their actual size. The number of hand basins provided compared to the number of wc's provided also appears not to be in accordance with the relevant British Standard two basins for five wc's in the female toilets in particular appears to be both unhygienic and potential the source of a major bottle neck.

    The competitor area building is a multi use building used by the riders for changing, greyhound staff, public access to veterinary services, a garage workshop facility for use by Youth Training Initiative and a meeting room which could be used by the Parish Council. The layout will once again need some fine tuning to comply with Building Regulations regarding disabled access and provision of disabled toilets.

    The Travel Plan

    The statement of intent at the front of the plan states that "the stadium operator is committed to managing spectator travel by promoting sustainable transport and managing car demand associated with stadium events" so it is clear that the new Abbey stadium will be unlike any other speedway stadium in Britain.

    The key objectives of the plan are to

    (i) increase multi-occupancy car travel and promote sustainable forms of transport.
    (ii) reduce both event employees and spectators car parking demand
    (iii) prevent inappropriate parking occurring around the stadium
    (iv) promote healthier lifestyle for event employees, visitors, spectators and the wider community

    According to the plan the objectives will be achieved through various methods as follows

  • The stadium operator to provide sufficient pre arranged off site parking facilities when it is expected that the parking demand will exceed the 572 spaces available on site. There will be 449 spaces available at a local park and ride and when demand is expected to exceed this capacity of 1021 spaces the promoter must arrange to use other car parks and obtain written approval from the council. The use of the ride and ride will be increasingly required if and when the overspill car park is built on. If sufficient off site parking is for some reason unavailable then appropriate mechanisms to be implemented to constrain the level of attendance at stadium events. Yes a promoter must discourage fans attending meetings!

  • Increase the ratio of car occupancy rates so making the best use of the parking facilities

  • Reduce the spaces available for event employees to encourage car sharing or sustainable travel via bike or walking (showers will be available for employees and a lift home guaranteed)

  • Free bus service from any off site parking

  • Improved evening bus services serving the stadium, according to the Speedway Star there are none at present

  • Promotion of a Swindon Robins fanzine car sharing database

  • Discounted parking for multi occupancy cars

  • Structured parking tariff at the stadium parking

  • Travel options and public transport info and details of structure of the parking tariff to be included in programme, leaflets and stadium web site

    The plan states that the promoters would voluntarily introduce the last three measures during the 2014 season - I wonder if they did or was it another problem broken?

    During the first five years that the new stadium is operating the car occupancy rate must increase from 1.77 (a figure based on surveys carried out during the 2007 season) to 2.3. If this target is not reached then the promoters face a penalty charge which varies yearly from £5,000 to £25,000 and if they miss it every year it will cost then a total of £55,000

    For the long suffering Swindon fans I do hope that when the new Abbey opens, which looks increasingly likely to be at the start of the 2017 season that the wait has been worth while and that the concerns I have raised about aspects of the design are ironed out in the design development phrase of the project but you are bound to ask why the promoters haven't spotted these problem since June 2007.

    One other thing does seem strange why we have not seen any 3D images of the proposed development in the speedway press or the Swindon web site as architects and developers usually provide these to sell schemes to people not used to reading plans.

    Abbey Stadium - Reserved Matters Planning Application

     

    This article was first published in Issue 61 of The Voice - The Journal of Friends of Speedway.

     

    This article was first published on 15th May 2016

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