By Harry Mottram: As promised, following the decision by the Supreme Court that determined that the 1922 Covenants were not a barrier to redevelopment of the Rec, Bath Rugby have published outline plans on Coronation day. That decision was confirmed when the court also refused an application seeking to appeal the ruling from February 2022 meaning it was all systems go to a redevelopment.
The reason for the delays and the many plans for redevelopment over the years is due to the status of the ground. The Recreation Ground is owned and operated by Bath Recreation Ltd, an independent charity who under the original agreement kept the Rec open for all to use – meaning in the summer the East Stand was removed to give access to the public and return the park to closer to its original size. Bath Rugby pay rent to the charity giving them an income but they would like to created a permanent east stand and improve the rest of the stadium.
Bath Rugby state on their website: “Stadium for Bath is about delivering a new home for Bath Rugby, regenerating the riverside in the heart of Bath, and the creation of wider sporting and community benefits – building a special place that everyone can enjoy, a beacon in the heart of the city.
“We want to ensure that The Recreation Ground continues to be a place for play, a place to come together, a place for passion that integrates and connects to the city. Our vision is to create world-class facilities for elite men’s and women’s rugby, an outstanding fan experience, drive community and sporting participation and deliver a regenerated riverside that everyone can enjoy while contributing to the cultural and economic vitality of the city.”
The club talk about creating world class facilities with an 18,000 capacity stadium with new hospitality facilities for fans and a place for the Bath Rugby Foundation. Importantly some of the issues that have snarled past plans are that the new stands will be lower in height, there will be no under pitch car park and the community would be able to use the pitch.
Eyebrows might be raised about the plans by the club that the development ‘needs to be environmentally sustainable’ but a brief reading of the scheme suggests much thought has gone into the proposals. Now the club are asking for feedback – either via the website or at public consultations. These are: at the Recreation Ground for members on Saturday 6th May from 2-4pm; Widcombe Social Club on Wednesday, 10 May 11am-7pm; or at the the ground in the First Floor Suite on Thursday, 18 May from 3-7pm.
Although some residents will be unhappy with the limited venues and times the plans will be open for consultation the club does have a point about how rugby on the Rec has changed as society has changed. Back in 1894 when the team first played on the Rec – and indeed for many years afterwards – the pitch was just another area of the park. In many ways no different to how teams continue to play in open sided pitches on Clifton Down in Bristol. As the game drew an increase in spectators that changed and by the tail end of the amateur era in the 1980s the game had become a major financial operation while today it is entirely commercial – hence the high ticket prices and hospitality required as revenue streams are needed to pay the large squad of players. However the club is more than just rugby. There’s training courses, women’s rugby and an academy side along with other teams and training activities. The Bath Rugby Foundation reaches out into the community to empower vulnerable children and young people with a variety of activities including working with schools in the area. So the claim the club wish to create a civic venue, with public conveniences open on non-match days as well as helping children and young people in B&NES with the foundation’s new dedicated office space, learning and other practical activity spaces does hold water.
Residents near by and those involved in preserving the architectural heritage of Bath will be interested in the plans on a visual level as well as how it will impact nearby businesses. Fans will want to see how the plans will enhance ‘the match day experience’ and the new stands in particular.
For more details visit the club’s website at https://www.bathrugby.com/stadium-for-bath/
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