Brighton & Hove Albion FC has come a long way in the past 20 years.
Once forced to share a stadium in Gillingham, Kent, when its Goldstone Ground was sold from under it, the football club eventually made its way home, built a new stadium and was promoted to the Premier League for the first time in 34 years this summer.
Over the past two decades, the club’s rise from banished no-hopers to victors has been underpinned by its gritty determination to develop grounds and facilities that befit a top-division club. After years of planning wrangles, it built the £120m American Express Community Stadium at Falmer, which opened in 2011, and followed that up with the development of a 40-acre training ground at Lancing in 2014.
Now Brighton & Hove Albion is preparing for its biggest property project to date, the £150m New Monks Farm development, which would accommodate 600 new homes, a 10,000 sq m Ikea store, a primary school and a country park.
So what does the club’s latest ambition entail and how likely is it to come to fruition?
Brighton & Hove Albion’s connection to the New Monks Farm site dates back to 2013 when the club purchased a 40-acre corner of the 180 acres for its training ground. In 2016, the club acquired the remaining 140 acres in a bid to control the land next to its training facility, according to executive director, Martin Perry, who is responsible for the club’s property activities.
“We had invested £32m on a training ground and we needed to make sure that our asset was protected,” says Perry, who was part of the consortium that bought the club in 1997 and was chief executive between 1999 and 2012.
Emerging local plan
According to Perry, the New Monks Farm site has been in Adur District Council’s emerging local plan for a number of years. Earmarked for 600 homes and 10,000 sq m of employment space, the council’s plan has been consulted on and approved by the inspector and is due to be adopted in December.
The club’s proposals are very similar to the council’s plan, opening the door for the New Monks Farm planning application to go to committee in the first quarter of 2018, with the housing development primed to start soon after that. It will be developed by New Monks Farm Development, a subsidiary of the football club, which will partner with Cala Homes on the residential component.
If approved, the first homes could be occupied by the end of 2018 and the new Ikea store will be open for business before the end of 2019.
It is hoped the development will create 875 jobs, generate £2.6m a year in public sector receipts for the local council and boost the local economy by £11.5m.
Brighton & Hove Albion has conditional contracts in place already to provide service sites to Cala Homes and Ikea. The club will be investing £42m in infrastructure for the site, which includes drainage systems, estate roads, services, a new junction on to the A27, a service site for the primary school and a 28 ha country park.
“The cost of that is very high; therefore we needed a development on it that would generate sufficient value to make it work,” says Perry. “Ikea had expressed an interest in locating a new store in the South East. Since it had been a target area for it for a very long time, it was very interested in that site. Its development plus the housing makes it work.”
Putting its marker down
Ikea was considering several sites before the main board opted for the Lancing one. Rioja Developments advised Albion on the deal.
“It’s very encouraging to see an international company like Ikea prepared to invest in the location and having potentially been able to secure a site where it can put its marker down,” says Chris Oakley, executive chairman at Oakleys in Brighton. “It will encourage other, bigger names to consider the location.”
Oakley is advising on the development of Shoreham Cement Works, a site similar in size to New Monks Farm, and is soon to open a new office in Shoreham.
“Brighton and Hove as a conurbation is landlocked. Site opportunities are to the east and west of the city along the coastal strip,” says Oakley. “For us, it’s about servicing where the growth of the region is going to be. We see that to the west of Shoreham.”
The arrival of Ikea would boost the area and potentially act as a catalyst for further development. However, while the club enjoys much support locally as a result of its sporting successes and involvement with the local community, New Monks Farm will face challenges.
The risk of flooding is one concern. The area is denoted as a flood zone 3a, which means that it can be developed only with a robust drainage management strategy in place. Perry says they have accounted for this.
“It’s not only having a strategy and designing a scheme to deal with the ground water; it’s also ensuring that it’s properly maintained in the future,” says Perry. “We have had problems locally because although drainage systems exist, they have not been properly maintained.”
As well as concerns over flooding, many local people fear that the congested A27 cannot cope with any more traffic.
“This is utter madness,” says Stephen Owen, managing partner at Brighton estate agent Graves Son & Pilcher. “The roads cannot cope as it is. Only a complete idiot could not see that.”
The congestion problem will not be solved until shelved bypass plans are reinstated, he argues.
However, Perry insists that the impact of New Monks Farm has been rigorously assessed. Modelling and calculations show the roads would be able to take the extra traffic, he says, adding that by swapping the local plan’s warehouses for a single Ikea, some of the traffic load would be lessened.
He explains that between 7am and 9am in the morning, when flows on the A27 are highest, the Ikea-led development would be expected to generate fewer trips than the local plan, which outlines warehouses and associated offices. In the evening, there would be 30 additional cars every hour, which is not a material increase compared with the local plan baseline, he says.
Three-quarters of the visitors to the Ikea store would come from the west, a section of the A27 that is not congested. Those approaching from the north would also be likely to approach from the west via the A23, the A24 and then the A27. Those living to the east are likely to use the Southampton Ikea. However, any new development will add to the area’s traffic woes.
Alex Bateman, planning director at property advisory firm SHW, says: “There is no question that there will be ramifications of such a large-scale development, with shopping facilities seeing an influx of people, the time it will take for the development to be constructed, the social impacts of a whole new residential district and the traffic often generated by stores such as Ikea, which encourage trips to store as opposed to online purchases.”
While Bateman acknowledges the potential problems, he says the economic gains for the area and positive effects of more housing - 30% of which is affordable - outweigh the negatives.
The delivery of New Monks Farm would also boost Brighton City Airport. Brighton & Hove Albion’s associated infrastructure investment will improve the viability of the airport site, which is allocated for additional employment use in the local plan.
“That development is only viable if they have got new access and they can sort their issues around drainage. Our drainage strategy and our new junction solves those problems for them at no cost to the airport,” says Perry.
There have been moves to solve the problem of congestion on the A27. Highways England has proposed some improvements to the A27 between Lancing and Arundel, which are out for consultation, but Perry says: “They have come up with a number of proposals that are not satisfactory.”
As one of many developers who will be providing funding for A27 improvements, he challenges the government to provide for the developments it has approved.
“Some people might argue that we should wait until the A27 is sorted out before we do anything but, actually, it’s the other way round. If we all did that, we would sit down and do nothing for the next 30 years. Our argument to the government is that its inspectors have approved the allocation of the sites in the local plan and therefore they need to do something about the A27.”
Perry is no stranger to planning battles. He led the 10-year fight against local residents at Falmer who opposed the development of the stadium on land bequeathed to the club by the council.
Now as much as then he is ready to fight to further stabilise the football club’s future.