Man Utd back Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ‘once-in-a-century’ chance to build new stadium

Sir Jim Ratcliffe outside Manchester United's stadium Old Trafford
Sir Jim Ratcliffe wants to build a stadium on the site of Old Trafford that can be a Wembley of the North - Telegraph/Jon Super

Manchester United have given the green light to Sir Jim Ratcliffe to explore a “once-in-a-century” opportunity to create a spectacular new stadium for the club as the centre-piece of a wider regeneration project of the Old Trafford area.

Ratcliffe favours a new build over redevelopment of United’s existing Old Trafford home and the club’s board have approved the exploration of that vision through a special taskforce chaired by Sebastian Coe.

Telegraph Sport revealed last month how United’s new kingpin wants to create the “Wembley of the North” and could seek to lobby government for funds.

The Ineos founder believes such an ambitious project could have a regenerative impact in Manchester in keeping with what the 2012 Olympics did for east London.

Ratcliffe - who has been given complete control of football operations at Old Trafford as part of his £1.03bn deal for a 27.7 per cent stake in the club - feels Coe’s experience of helping to deliver the London Olympics could prove invaluable as United consider a project of regional, national and international significance.

The so-called “Old Trafford Regeneration Task Force” will be chaired by Coe, the former head of the organising committee for the 2012 London Olympics, and also comprise former United captain Gary Neville and Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, among other prominent local leaders.

Ratcliffe has convened the 10-strong taskforce to fully examine how a world leading new stadium could support wider renewal of the area surrounding United’s current Old Trafford home and drive social and economic improvements for the entire region.

Lord Coe, Sir Alex Ferguson and Richard Caborn
Lord Coe – seen here with Sir Alex Ferguson and former sport minister Richard Caborn –will head the taskforce looking into how Old Trafford can be transformed - Getty Images/John Peters

“This can be a major regeneration project for an area of Greater Manchester which has played such a key role in British industrial history but which today requires new investment to thrive again,” Ratcliffe said.

“The north west of England has a greater concentration of major football clubs than anywhere else in the world yet we don’t have a stadium on the scale of Wembley, the Nou Camp or Bernabeu. We will not be able to change that on our own, which is why this task force is important to help us seize this once-in-a-century opportunity”.

Lord Coe, a lifelong Chelsea fan who grew up in Sheffield and is president of the International Associations of Athletics Federations, believes a project of such scale is “overdue” in the north of England.

“Throughout my career in sport, I have seen the potential for stadiums to become focal points for strong communities and catalysts for social and economic development,” he said.

“That was certainly true of the venues we built in east London for the 2012 Olympics, and we are overdue a project of similar scale and ambition in the north of England.

“I am honoured to have this opportunity to share my experience in support of this tremendously exciting project.”

Ratcliffe is understood to have analysed the option to redevelop United’s current Old Trafford home or build a new stadium on adjacent land. Sources have indicated that his initial conclusion is that a new build would be “the best way to truly transform the fan experience and surrounding community”, a vision the club’s board and the Glazers are fully supportive of a task force now exploring in detail.

The task force, which also includes Trafford council chief executive Sara Todd and its leader Tom Ross and the chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) Duncan Drasdo, is expected to make recommendations later this year.

An economic impact study will be commissioned to assess the potential socio-economic benefits of the projects and fans and local residents will be closely consulted throughout the process.

If United pursued the new build option, there is understood to be a desire to preserve Old Trafford’s historic footprint through a scaled down stadium for the women’s team and academy.

The rest of the taskforce is made up of Eamonn Boylan, chief executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Transport for Greater Manchester, Anna Bensky, associate director of The Peel Group, Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester and Malcolm Press, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University.

They will also look closely into financing options for the stadium given the view that, while the club has the capacity to arrange its own financing for a phased redevelopment of Old Trafford, a new build and wider regeneration project would require support from funding partners. A new stadium could cost around £2 billion, with a redevelopment project around half that cost.

Ineos has experience of financing major infrastructure projects and a wide variety of potential funding sources will be explored.

Sources said the club were not looking for “handouts” but could tap into opportunities for public-private partnerships to unlock investment benefits for the community and make the stadium a driver for wider regeneration around transport infrastructure, amenities and mixed income housing among other things.

Trafford council has already announced separate plans to revamp area surrounding Old Trafford as part of the Trafford Wharfside Framework. But United want to work in synergy with that project to support regeneration of the area between Trafford Park and the banks of Salford Quays and back the “Levelling Up” agenda to drive investment in the North of England.

Old Trafford
Sir Jim Ratcliffe wants to create a 'Wembley of the North' - Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

Burnham believes such a development would help “attract investment, create jobs and lead to new opportunities that will not just benefit Trafford but communities across our city-region and beyond”.

“Greater Manchester has been a hive of innovation and creativity for centuries and sport has played a huge role in shaping our past and present,” he said. “This bold and exciting vision for the future of Old Trafford and the surrounding area can become another success story for our region.”

Former United captain Neville, also a prominent businessman in Manchester, believes Old Trafford and the surrounding area cannot be neglected any longer. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have had the privilege of playing hundreds of games at Old Trafford and no one can take away those amazing memories,” he said.

“But Old Trafford has evolved throughout its history and it’s clear we are at a point where it has to change again to ensure that Manchester United has a world-class stadium befitting the world’s greatest club.

“While I want the best for Manchester United, I also want the same for the surrounding community. Old Trafford should be a stadium that the whole of Greater Manchester can take pride in and be a catalyst for sustainable, cohesive growth in an area of the city that has been neglected for too long.”

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