Bath Rugby Club’s new 18,000-seater stadium could be in place in time for the 2022/23 season.
Club bosses remain tight-lipped about the cost of the multi-million-pound project and say key details like the height of the stands and where the team will play throughout the construction period are yet to be finalised.
The planning application will undoubtedly be closely scrutinised by fans and critics when it is submitted early in the new year.
If it is successful, it will be the first time a new stadium has been built in a World Heritage City and will see the Rec’s use increase massively outside of match days.
Bath Rugby chief executive Tarquin McDonald told a media briefing on Thursday 5th December: “We hope to submit plans in the new year. There will be people massively in favour, those with questions and one or two less in favour.
“We believe passionately in what we’re trying to do here.
“We want to create one of the most amazing places in the world to play and watch rugby. The test of our ambition is to create somewhere for everyone.”
There is a vocal contingent against the club’s plans, but Mr McDonald is confident they are in the minority.
Addressing some of the challenges the club will face, he said: “We don’t own this land. It’s a functional flood plain.
“It’s a conservation area, surrounded by heritage assets, in a World Heritage Site. It’s important to get this right.
“We won’t be allowed not to have an exceptional design. This is a unique opportunity. It will be somewhere people can use 365 days of the year.
“No one has ever developed a new stadium in a World Heritage City before. I sincerely hope it happens. It will be a great thing for the city.”
Asked how much the project would cost, Mr McDonald would not give specifics but said it would be more than £30million.
He said one of the key design features is raising the pitch 3.8 metres out of the flood plain, with a 550-space car park underneath.
The much-lamented existing pitch is at risk of flooding and contamination that could mean it is unusable for months, and the neighbouring leisure centre is on stilts to avoid such issues.
Opponents have raised concerns about the visual impact of increasing the overall height of the stadium and the resulting threat to Bath as a World Heritage City.
The club has not yet finalised the overall height of the stadium, but Mr McDonald has previously said that status would not be at risk.
Critics have also argued the club is effectively privatising income from parking spaces that currently goes to Bath and North East Somerset Council.
The authority is demolishing Avon Street’s multi-storey car park as part of its flagship Bath Quays redevelopment, while the Manvers Street and Cattlemarket sites are allocated in its development plans.
Mr McDonald told the briefing: “Our ambition is to be sustainable. The car park is a key part of the scheme – the seating capacity, hospitality and car park are all integral.
“A lot of stadia have supermarkets or hotels on site. We can’t do that here. The car park will provide 550 spaces, replacing spaces lost at Avon Street, Manvers Street and Cattle Market.
“There will be no additional journeys into the centre but there will be some local differences.
“It will be open 365 days a year. The impact on nearby residents will be an improvement. The stadium will be bigger. It will look completely different, but deliveries will be less disruptive.
“There will be disruption during the construction period but not the ongoing disruption [of putting up the temporary stand and taking it down again each season].”
He added: “We will submit our plans in the new year and move as quickly as the process allows. Even getting to the planning stage is a huge step for the club.
“We will confirm details of where we will play during the application.
“We’ve been focusing on a challenge where we play on the outfield at the Rec. It has its operational challenges and residents have legitimate concerns.
“We could have a temporary stadium in Bath, or we could rent one. We’re weighing up the pros and cons.
“We want to make sure the rugby isn’t interrupted.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter