By Andy Kelly, Daily Post

Liverpool FC last night admitted the cost of building its new 60,000 seat stadium had risen – and revealed it would pull out if the development threatened to over-extend the club.

Chief executive Rick Parry said it was not just a question of whether the club could find the money, but whether it could pay it back. A figure of £80m has always been given for the new Stanley Park stadium but construction costs are currently rising by 10% a year in Liverpool so a true figure of well over £100m now looks more realistic.

Mr Parry’s words of caution came on an otherwise good day for the stadium project. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had earlier effectively given the stadium the green light by deciding not to “call it in” for further scrutiny. It means objectors to the £80m plan will not have the chance to challenge it at a public inquiry and the decision of the city council to approve it will stand.

LFC remain hopeful of starting work next spring and Mr Parry welcomed the Government’s decision.

He said: “It is good news for LFC and good news for the local community who want to see something happen. We are still confident of funding the project, but that is a separate issue entirely. The next step is to secure the funding, finalise the designs and then get on site by spring next year.

“You need to have a real project to attract funding and getting planning permission from the city council was a significant step in that respect and this is another. “There is a higher cost involved, as is often the case with projects of this nature, but we are not commenting on what those costs are at this stage. “We are confident we will secure the funding but equally, as we have always said, we will only proceed providing it is a viable project. We will not bankrupt ourselves or over-extend the club. “It is not just a case of whether we can find the money, it is about whether we can pay it back.” The new stadium is tied in with multi-million pound regeneration of the wider Anfield and Breckfield area. It involves development of Anfield Plaza on the site of the existing football stadium to include retail, offices, residential, community and hotel uses, plus new public open space.

Council leader Mike Storey described the scheme as “brilliant”. He said: “This massive project will lead to new jobs, new homes and new investment and will help create the kind of facilities and infrastructure that are suitable for a world-class city.”

Liverpool planners gave the scheme the go-ahead at the end of July but it was dependent on John Prescott not wishing to intervene. That was a distinct possibility given the fact the new stadium involves building on part of a Grade II listed park. But a letter from Mr Prescott’s office yesterday said he had decided to leave the decision to the local planning authority.

Objectors to LFC’s proposals were not giving up hope last night.

Joe Kenny, spokesman for the Anfield Regeneration Action Committee, said: “We’re disappointed because we expected the Government at least to give us the opportunity to scrutinise this application and this applicant at a public inquiry. “It certainly was not scrutinised by the planning committee. This sets a very dangerous precedent, none of our parks seem to be safe.”

The protesters have not ruled out the possibility of applying for a judicial review of either John Prescott’s decision or the council’s initial approval.

James Dow, partner at Cheshire-based corporate finance firm Dow, Schofield and Watts, believes Liverpool’s budget should be enough. He said: “Sunderland’s Stadium of Light cost £30m and Bolton’s Reebok was built for less than £1,000 per seat. You can put up a very good stadium for less than £1,000 per seat and at £80m Liverpool would already be around about £1,300 per seat.

“Of course, the more capital you spend initially, the more you can get back in revenue with executive packages, etc, so you have to get the balance right.

“Clearly that’s why there has been quite a lot of speculation about potential investors.”

Just this weekend, Liverpool-born but American-based entertainment moguls Stuart Ford and Mike Jefferies said they were putting together a consortium of people who wished to invest in LFC.

But Mr Dow believes property magnate and LFC shareholder Steve Morgan remains in the best position to make his interest stick.

“I think a consortium is a long shot. Steve Morgan is obviously driving a hard bargain and that is why Liverpool have been looking elsewhere.”

andykelly@dailypost.co.uk

Source: www.icliverpool.icnetwork.co.uk

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