Harrogate Town AFC’s immediate future is at their Wetherby Road ground, the club’s managing director has said, with the construction of new terraces meaning the club won’t have to relocate even if it achieves promotion again.
“It means that we can progress along with our English Football League (EFL) aspirations,” Garry Plant said, following the approval of the three new stands earlier this month.
“At the bare minimum it means we can stay at National League level…(though) the aspirations of the football club, it wants to be in the EFL.”
The club started construction on the stands before receiving planning permission from Harrogate Borough Council, saying it was due to a tight timeline imposed on them by the EFL following their promotion to the fifth-tier National League last year.
The club is now seeking promotion to the EFL, with the increased ground capacity of 4000 one of the stipulations that had to be fulfilled for them to be eligible.
The terraces have neared completion but are yet to be officially opened.
Councillors unanimously voted to approve the terraces on April 2, amid concerns from residents over noise levels and congestion – with several councillors acknowledging the ground was in a troublesome spot.
“Undoubtedly we’ve got a ground in the wrong place,” Coun Pat Marsh said at the meeting, saying the stadium was “on top of residents” and lacked sufficient car parking.
“It’s great to have this wonderful team but we’re here to protect the amenity of the people who live next to that stadium.”
Coun Michael Harrison agreed that if the club continued to achieve promotion, it would eventually need to relocate.
“There is a tipping point where the success of the club sees them outgrow their site,” he said.
After the meeting, Coun Marsh suggested land near Pannal would be a more suitable site for the club, specifically site PN19 in the draft local plan.
PN19 is currently a plot of agricultural land 9.26 hectares in size to the west of Leeds Road.
She cited the ample space and close transport links, including bus routes and the nearby Pannal train station, as favourable reasons for the site.
However, Plant said any move was off the table with the ground’s increased capacity meaning Wetherby Road would be suitable in the scenario where the club was promoted again.
“We are now at the point where we can stay where we are and meet all of those criteria (if we are promoted),” Plant said.
“If at some point our relocation was possible, we would have to look at the matter subjectively – the terms, finances and the location.”
He said upgrading the ground had a positive impact on the whole community, with users of the stadium ranging from junior footballers aged five, all the way up to seniors in their 70s who play walking soccer.
“It’s all about the fans experience as well- from the minute they walk through the turnstiles, it helps them to enjoy it,” he said.
He added that he wanted to express his appreciation towards the council and planning committee from the club, as well as local residents.
“I’d like to express our desire to ensure that we build, establish and maintain a clear line of communication with local residents,” he said.
Lachlan Leeming , Local Democracy Reporting Service