Football’s building homes: on an under-discussed source of brownfield land

England manager Gareth Southgate is a man, we reckon, who would favour building more bloody houses. Image: Getty.

The whole of England is convinced that Football’s Coming Home. We at CityMetric are more interested in the “home” bit than the football, of course – but don’t worry lads, I’ve found a link.

For much of my teens and twenties I followed Hull City around the country. The football was miserable, but the trains, beer and friendships were great, and more than compensated for the inevitable defeat in Burnley or Brighton.

The event that stopped me going was Hull City’s move to a shiny new stadium. All my mates got season passes grouped together in an all-seater stadium. I couldn’t face that level of commitment, and quickly drifted away.

Hull is far from the only football club to have upped sticks from a dilapidated ground to swanky stadium – so I’ve started to wonder what has happened to the former sites of the national game. Researching this turned out to be simple, mainly because football attracts geeks in much the same way transport does, and so there are plenty of helpful websites.


My first task was to pick a cut-off date, so I didn’t have to go all the way back to 19th century. Fortunately football transformed itself in 1992 when the structure of the game was changed with the creation of the Premiership. Following this, money poured into the game: for many teams this was the catalyst for the recent trend for teams to move to new homes.

Of the 92 teams in the Premiership and Football League in the 1992-93 season, 29 have since left their grounds. Here’s what has happened to the abandoned stadia.

Premiership

Off the 22 teams that were in the inaugural Premiership, five have moved on to pastures new.

First to leave were Middlesborough, abandoning Ayresome Park in 1995 for The Riverside. This move was designed to kick-start the redevelopment of the town’s docks area. It didn’t. The old ground, like many, was in a residential district. Homes now stand where Brain Clough once scored for fun. I’m sorry to say that The Turnstile and The Midfield are the actual street names here.

A new development in Middlesborough within a sea of back to backs. Image: Google.

In 2001 Southampton left The Dell for St Mary’s Stadium, a similar dockside location to The Boro. The Dell is still The Dell. It is a rather impressive apartment block, which follows the footprint of the old stands.

The pitch is a car park, and the stands are homes at the Dell. Image: Google.

Manchester City were attracted to the shiny new stadium which had been built for the Commonwealth Games. The club moved out of Maine Road in 2003. The site has since been redeveloped into rather attractive terrace housing.

More terracing has been replaced by terraced housing at Maine Road. Image: Google.

Coventry City ditched Highfield Road for the out of town Ricoh Arena in 2005. The scene of too many years of topflight football is now the Signet Square Children Park, which is surrounded by modern high density housing.

Coventry’s compact ground has been replaced by tall housing. Image: Google.

Arsenal was the last of the original Premiership teams to relocate, moving a couple of hundred meters from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium adjacent to the East Coast Mainline. Listed building status means that two of the stands at Highbury remain: they’ve been repurposed and now house apartments.

Highbury Square, still recognisably an ex-football stadium. Image: Google.

All housing so far – a trend that will continue as we descend down the leagues.

Division 1

Millwall left The Den for The New Den (now The Den) in 1993. The pitch has been replaced by a distribution warehouse and a London Overground depot. I wonder if South East London wasn’t in much demand for housing in the early 1990s? a housing estate (sorry, we got this bit wrong).

No evidence of the old den in south east London. Image: Google.

Derby County left The Baseball Ground in 1997. It’s now housing, with a large green. Derby was one of few teams with its own railway station, and it’s still there. Opened in 1990 and closed in 1997, only 4 trains ever stopped at the Ramsline Halt.

The modern housing that has replaced the baseball ground. Image: Google.

Sunderland also relocated in 1997. Roker Park has been replaced by a housing development.

In 2001 Oxford United left The Manor Ground. It has been replaced by The Nuffield Manor Hospital, which is different.

With a central atrium, the hospital in Oxford follows the lines of the football ground it replaced. Image: Google.

Leicester City abandoned Filbert Street in 2002. Most of the site appears undeveloped apart from a large block of Halls of Residence, these days called “Unite Students – Filbert Village”. Things have changed since I was at Leicester Poly.

There’s still plenty of room for more student accommodation at Flibert Street. Image: Google.

West Ham United left Upton Park last year. It’s already been levelled: the developer has plans for 838 new homes, retail outlets and leisure facilities.

Divison 2

Counterintuitively, teams lower down the football ladder in 1993 are more likely to have moved to new stadiums. For many down in Division 2, the new location has been a springboard to a big upturn in their fortunes: 8 of the 9 teams with new stadiums have made it into the top flight, whereas only six of the 15 teams who have kept there traditional homes have achieved that.

  • Huddersfield Town left Leeds Road in 1994: it is now a B&Q.
  • Bolton Wanderers left Burnden Park in 1997: it has become the Burden Park Shopping Centre.
  • Brighton and Hove Albion left The Goldstone in 1997: it quickly became the Goldstone Retail Park.
  • Stoke City left The Victoria Ground in 1997. The site is undeveloped, but earmarked for housing.
  • Reading left Elm Park in 1998, and it has been developed for housing.
  • Wigan Athletic left Springfield Park in 1999: it is now housing.
  • Hull City left Boothferry Park in 2002: that is also housing.
  • Swansea City left Vetch Field in 2005. This one is odd. It is earmarked for a housing development with “safe streets”, but currently hosts allotments. The centre circle of the pitch will not be built upon, because people have had their ashes spread there.
  • Rotherham United left Millmoor in 2008. The ground is still there. It’s still in use with an Under 18’s team playing their home fixtures there.

The Victoria Ground, Stoke, will be 2, 3 & 4 bedroom homes, soon. Image: Google.

Division 3

Lots more housing from the lower league. Darlington (2003), Doncaster Rovers (2006), Shrewsbury Town (2007), Colchester United (2008), Cardiff City (2009) and Chesterfield (2010) have all become residential developments. Barnet (2013) appears to be joining that group as demolition started this year. Scarborough (2007) now hosts a Lidl.

Northampton Town left their traditional home for pastures new in 1994 but the County Ground is still going strong. The Cobblers shared the ground with Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, and First Class cricket continues to be played there, on the odd occasion it’s not raining in Northampton.

Cricket remains in the county ground Northampton, taking up a big chunk of land. Image: Google.

In Summary

Some 29 teams have relocated. Two grounds continue to host sport. One is a hospital; four are retail outlets. The remaining 22 are, or will shortly be, providing homes.

It’s hard to calculate how many people now live in these developments. Some of them have produced a lot of homes: Highbury Square contains 650 flats. So do 10,000 people live on these sites? 20,000? More?

Whatever the figure, they have been a significant supply of brownfield sites in many towns and cities. Yet it is a very limited supply of land.

If only there was another sport that could deliver land for housing? Anyone up for re-classifying all golf courses as brownfield sites?

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.