Council hopes ‘Stadium for the North’ support will boost Wrexham levelling up bid
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Hopes have been aired that a “groundswell” of support for plans to redevelop Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground will help to release funding.
Wrexham Council will this week submit a bid to the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund in an attempt to secure more than £18m.
The local authority wants to use the money to deliver proposals to transform the Mold Road gateway into the town, which include a new 5,500-seat stand at the Kop end of the National League side’s stadium.
A hotel and conferencing facility could also be created as part of efforts to boost the area’s economy.
A 16,000-signature petition in support of the council’s ambition of bringing international football and rugby back to The Racecourse was delivered to 10 Downing Street yesterday (Monday, July 4).
The current Wales side, including Gareth Bale, also wore t-shirts backing the ‘Stadium for the North’ campaign as they warmed up before their recent UEFA Nations League game against Belgium.
Despite being unsuccessful in the first round of the fund last year, senior figures behind the bid are cautiously optimistic of a positive decision this time round.
Wrexham Council’s chief executive, Ian Bancroft, said: “I think there’s a real strong feeling within Wrexham, North Wales, Wales and other parts of the UK.
“As the oldest international football ground in the world still in use, this is such a strong opportunity to create a stadium in North Wales, not just for football but for other sports and events.
“It means anyone in the north of Wales and North West of England can access sporting events on the stage that they should.
“It also gives Wales strength in terms of having stadiums throughout the country when it comes to bidding for international sporting competitions.
“It does feel like there’s a real groundswell of opinion.”
The overall Wrexham Gateway scheme is being delivered under a partnership between the Welsh Government, Wrexham Council, Wrexham Glyndwr University and Wrexham AFC.
If the bid is approved, money will be provided via a £4.8 billion capital fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to invest in local infrastructure across the UK.
Mr Bancroft said the Football Association of Wales had already pledged to bring international matches to Wrexham if the application is successful.
He said: “The FAW have committed in writing to bringing international competitive football back so we would anticipate that if successful we will see international qualification matches at The Racecourse Ground.
“Yes, it might be some of the smaller teams, but I think getting European and World Cup qualification games is really critical.”
He also addressed recent criticism of public money potentially being used to invest in a stadium now owned by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
It comes after the transfer of The Racecourse Ground to Wrexham AFC from Glyndwr University was completed last week.
Mr Bancroft said £7m worth of private money was also being invested in the scheme to deliver wider benefits for the local community.
He said: “The public money that’s going in is for the Stadium for the North, putting an international stadium back into competitive use and holding a range of sporting and cultural events at that stadium.
“There’s a hotel proposed to go alongside it, a conference centre and parking associated with it as well.
“The ground is in the ownership of the football club, but there will be legal agreements in place, and they will safeguard usage of the ground which is really critical
“Without public funding we wouldn’t have that same level of safeguards put in place.”
Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton has also given her backing to the bid following the submission of the petition.
She said: “The 16,000 signatures gathered shows the strength of feeling in Wrexham for the gateway Levelling Up bid and for the redevelopment of The Racecourse Ground’s Kop Stand.
“The amount of residents who have supported the petition proves the value and importance of the government’s Levelling Up Fund, after Wrexham has been neglected for two decades.
“At the moment, if you live in Wrexham and want to watch an international game, you need to travel over four hours to Swansea or Cardiff to do so.
“The redevelopment of the Kop Stand would allow the heritage of the oldest football ground in the world to come alive again and put Wrexham on the map, as the centre of international sport in North Wales.”
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