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‘I’ll save stadium for £1.2m’
THE millionaire looking to bring greyhound racing back to Oxford Stadium says he is ready to stump up £1.2m to snap up the site.
The news comes as it was revealed last night that a stumbling block that would have stopped the owners flattening the site to build 220 homes was removed by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
His office told campaigners that a move to force the owners to complete an environmental impact assessment before they could go any further with their plans has been thrown out.
It was unclear last night whether further steps are needed if the owners want to proceed.
But potential buyer Harry Findlay, left, has held talks with officials about his plans – and today says “I’m their man”.
The racing boss says he has been told by officials there is only a “million to one chance” that plans to build 220 homes there will go ahead.
And he says that he thinks racing could be back by March.
He said he believed the stadium was worth £1.2m in its current state, and he was prepared to pay it.
He said: “I can’t wait to get my hands on Oxford. I know it’s going to be packed three nights a week.”
The Coventry Stadium manager and supporters of the stadium have claimed that Galliard Homes and Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which owns the debt related to the stadium, are facing their “last throw of the dice” in their attempt to develop the site.
Mr Findlay said: “If we’re talking really short-term, we could be talking about four months.
“I get the impression these guys are backed into a corner, and we’re hoping to be up and running in time for Cheltenham [Gold Cup] next year.
“I’ve got a massive advantage in that I’ve already got all the best trainers at my track in Coventry ready to come down to Oxford.
“I’ve had a meeting with the council and with the MP and they seem spot on. They are confident that planning permission is a million-to-one chance.
“They have certainly shown it can only be run as a greyhound track and I’m their man.”
Former Oxford Stadium promotions manager Mick Wheble said: “We know this is their last throw of the dice.”
The stadium closed on December 29 last year after its operator the Greyhound Racing Association claimed it was no longer viable.
The announcement came after the stadium lost its contract for Friday morning BAGS races, which some have claimed tipped it over the edge.
A planning application for 220 homes was submitted by planning agent Savills, on behalf of Galliard Homes, in April.
Other campaigners against the redevelopment of the site said they shared Mr Wheble’s view that the developers had few options left.
Council leader Bob Price refused to give his thoughts on the stadium owners’ position, but emphasised that the council remained opposed to residential development on the site.
He said: “Our position is very straightforward – that the core strategy and sites and housing documents do not identify it as a housing site.
“The reasons for that are to do with our need for leisure facilities.”
NAMA and Savills were unavailable for comment.
Gavin Beckley, of the Oxford Speedway Supporters club, said: “If it’s true that the stadium owners are willing to talk to people it sends a message they aren’t as confident as they used to be.”
And Save Oxford Greyhound Stadium group chairman Ian Sawyer added: “I think, due to the council’s support, they have been backed into a corner.
“Ultimately what we’re hoping is that they relax their stance, but we know developers have a habit of playing the waiting game.”
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “Once we had serious interest from credible businesspeople interested in keeping the stadium and committed to making a success of it as a recreation facility with greyhound racing, speedway and other activities, the case the present owners have been trying to make that it is not viable, always weak in my view, has fallen apart.
“Three things have to happen now. One – the Government must refuse them permission to demolish the stadium. Two – the city council must turn down the planning application for housing, which I am sure they will, and three – the Government has to turn down any appeal against that refusal.
“Then the owners will have to sell or lease the stadium as a stadium, and it can get up and running again in new hands.”
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