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11 Questions To Ponder Over Reading FC's Royal Elm Park Plans

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Marc takes us through a number of considerations that need to be solved as the REP project kicks into gear.

What's in it for the council?

Let's go back in time a little bit to work out why this might be a point of contention. The Madejski Stadium sight was sold to Sir John for £1 because it was a rubbish tip, literally, and he developed it into a Premier League quality stadium for a team at the time stuck in a League Two ground. Fast forward to 2017 and that land is inexorably more valuable, even as a rubbish tip, and so one would expect the council to be expecting a decent return on their original mate's rates bargain deal.

And yet, Sir John is not involved in this deal (so far as we're aware) and the cash is all Thai. Not even the football club owns the land, so why would the council let the Thais benefit from this historical favour?

Tax takes, jobs, a part of the town being developed, new homes and plenty more is on their plus-side but surely investors would be queued out the door to provide such a privilege.

This is no allegation of dodgy deals or anything of the sort, but wouldn't one expect a little more backbone to ensure that the local authorities, and perhaps even football club, get a strong return on land that was effectively given away for free, and is now to be converted for the profit of foreign cash?

Finally on this matter, a number of 'conditions' have been laid out by the council so perhaps there is more substance to that.

What will become of the greyhound track car park and surrounding area?

If there's to be severely reduced options to park at the doorstep of the West Stand, the natural alternatives include the old greyhound track which has been a semi-official parking option for a number of years.

Curiously, it hasn't been mentioned in these plans. Will it run as normal? Won't it become the hottest ticket in town? And, of course, can it be expanded upon? I mean, look at it, it's huge! And far more of that area could be utilised.

Google Maps

Another set of questions to consider about the greyhound track are; who owns it? Why's it not been bought (it's real valuable)? Why can't that be the new club official car park?

Will this help the Green Park railway station plans?

This is something the area desperately needs and will certainly take the strain of this all-bus-no-car part of the REP project. Fortunately, it's named in the club's article on the council approving the plans.

"Royal Elm Park is also paving the way for a new mainline station to be created at nearby Green Park, offering residents and visitors direct rail access to local destinations, the south west, the Midlands and the North."

A positive step, let's see where it goes.

Won't the roads just be clogged with buses?

Let's face it, cars will still be on the road around the stadium on matchdays. There's going to be a lot of shopping and leisure options aside from football, after all, and lest we mention a bunch of new local residents. And, of course, people will still find a way of driving to the game.

But with the club's offer of free buses from the town centre, there will be tens of double deckers crawling up the A33 to contend with.

And flip this over to the end of the game, as all of the above fights with a multi-storey car park to get on the road. Things are already pretty gridlocked for sell-outs, and there are genuine fears REP could make things a lot slower for everybody concerned.

What of the transitional period?

It is inevitable that, for a number of years, fans will turn up to a stadium next to a massive building site. How are the club/council/whoever is in charge going to accomodate for this? One presumes the buses will be in place by then but, as someone who went to secondary school while it was being rebuilt, it's far from a pleasant experience no matter how 'practical' the transitional solutions are.

How much accomodation for drinking and fan culture will be made?

"A new public square of 8,000sq m will form a focal point for residents, football supporters and visitors, and will include over 2,000sq m of new retail, leisure and restaurant facilities."

This line from the club's announcement is a curious one given how different a focal point for 'residents' and a focal point for 'football supporters' can be. Given the lack of permanent drinking options around the ground at the moment, one wonders how far this will be improved. Needless to say, a Nandos and Bella Italia may be wondrous options for locals on a Thursday night, but it simply won't suffice if 3000 Leeds fans are designated a Carluccio's as their away pub.

The current arrangements outside the Madejski are good, in terms of the pop-up beer dispensers outside the stands, but are they under threat? Will we all be shepherded into a business park Hungry Horse that's empty the rest of the week? It's unlikely that the exact occupiers of the units have been agreed, and if so that leaves a lot of uncertainty.

How much affordable housing is in Royal Elm Park?

Perhaps more of a political point but hopefully enough affordable housing will be built on REP. As you can see from our article on the approval, it's a strong consideration but naturally what counts as 'affordable' in this day and age et cetera remains widely up for debate.

Do we really need another hotel?

There's already one stuck to the ground and 'hotel space' (presumably the sort of space one could build a hotel) is part of the REP plans. Is it really necessary? On this subject...

Why an ice rink?

Let's list things that Reading might need to improve it's cultural standing; a larger, more purposeful theatre venue; an arena to compete with Bournemouth's, Cardiff's, and Birmingham's; perhaps even an out of town luxury shopping centre like Bicester. An ice rink, though? There's a huge complex down the road in Bracknell that surely serves the region's needs and Reading usually gets a temporary one in the town centre for the only time of year people want one anyway.

NOTE: A public square has been named as a 'concert space' so let's wait and see exactly what they put on there.

Will the loss of the dome hurt the club?

Reading face a constant battle to retain their Academy One status and the only indoor training facility's loss cannot be good for that, so are the club solely pinning their hopes on a new training ground?

Such would be a risky strategy given the uncertainty over the Royals' financial future, and how important it would be in the mind of any future owners.

Are the club due to make any cash out of this?

So far, Reading have been made somewhat financially stable by the Thais to a level that's not worth going into here. Somewhat, however, is the key word. The loss of this land is a huge financial blow that may have been in return for minor guarantees of liquidity, but if that is all, then huge questions remain.

But are the club due to make some more money out of it? It's already forking over for free buses but is this offset by a cut of all takings from the homes, restaurants and more? Time will tell. Well, it might. (Don't hold your breath).