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City fans to decide fate of Manchester stadium

MANCHESTER CITY fans could leave the city council with a pounds90M white elephant on its hands if they do not agree to the club's move to the new Commonwealth Games stadium.

The revelation follows this week's announcement that Manchester City Council had secured pounds90M of Lottery funding to construct a new stadium in the east of the city.

The council proposes to build the stadium in two phases. First, a temporary, 37,000-seat athletics ground will be constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. After the Games, this would be converted into an all-seater football arena by dropping the field 7m and adding a lower tier of seating. The council hopes that Manchester City Football Club will move into the new 50,000 seat stadium once it is completed.

However, go ahead for the second phase depends on Manchester City fans and shareholders agreeing to the football club's move to the site in 2003. The club has agreed in principle, but is committed to consulting its supporters and shareholders.

A no vote would leave the city council with an unwanted athletics stadium. It would also end plans for a parallel development in the surrounding area.

The presence of a permanent football stadium at the site is central to a pounds40M retail and leisure development by Amec Developments. The shopping mall, hotel and fun park is to be integrated with the football stadium and Manchester Metrolink stations.

'The development will not go ahead if the stadium does not go ahead,' says Amec Developments chairman John Early. 'But I am reasonably confident that City will take up the offer.'

Construction of phase two of the stadium will see the replacement of 25,000 temporary seats with 38,000 permanent, covered seats. New stands will be constructed at either end.

Phase two work will have to be carried out in less than a year to allow Manchester City to move in before the start of the 2003-04 football season.

The project is complicated by the fact that the stadium is on an old gasworks site. 'There are lots of nasty things like mineshafts and contaminated ground,' adds Budd. Site investigation work is out to tender and expected to start in the next few weeks.

Though structural and procurement details have still to be finalised, Budd expects enabling work to begin in January. Phase one will be completed in 2001.

The design for the stadium, which includes eight, 75m high cable stayed masts, has evolved from earlier designs for the city's Olympic and National Stadium bids. 'We have kept the same image as that stadium, but have reduced the capacity,' explains Arup Associates structural director Terry Raggett.

Richard Thompson

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