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Albion's new training ground 'as important as The Amex'
Albion's new training ground is as important for the club’s future as the American Express Community Stadium.
That’s the view of club bosses in the countdown to decision day on the proposed £29 million state-of-the-art facility in Lancing.
Next Monday Adur District Council will decide on the future of the proposed new complex where the club’s first team will train and where the Seagulls’ stars of the future will develop.
The plans were given the green light by Lancing Parish Council in March and now council officials have recommended that planning permission should be granted as long as certain conditions are met.
A decision was originally expected in May this year but Albion went back to the drawing board after a number of concerns were raised over noise pollution, access to the site and the impact of extra traffic.
If the specially arranged planning committee follows the advice of council officials work could begin on the site from the start of November.
Construction is expected to take about 14 months, less than half the build time for the Amex, which would mean the training facility could be completed by the end of 2013.
The club says it will move into the complex as soon as it is ready.
Albion Executive Director Martin Perry , who has overall responsibility for the delivery of the project, said: “The training ground is just as important as the stadium.
“What the top players ask about when they are considering a move is what is the training ground like? And what is the stadium like?
“They want decent training facilities and to play in front of a large crowd and in a good supportive atmosphere with the crowd behind them.
“But they only play in the stadium on average about once every two weeks. The training ground is their office day in, day out.
“We’ve got the stadium, so now the training ground is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.”
The training ground will have 11 outdoor pitches with five for use by the first team and six pitches for academy and community use.
The site’s distinctive Y-shaped two-storey building, inspired by the art deco design of Shoreham Airport and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, includes an indoor pitch, changing rooms, a pool, medical facilities, gym, physio rooms and offices for the club’s analysts.
A sign of the ambition of the club is the training facility’s press room will have translation booths, which will be installed with fixtures in European competitions in mind. The site will also have 303 car parking spaces.
The club says the financial and economic benefits for the surrounding area are enormous.
It predicts that £2 million will be injected into the local economy during the construction phase with an additional £1 million annual income as a result of additional employee spend and the club’s direct expenditure on local goods and services.
There will be 300 construction jobs created, including up to 100 jobs for local residents while 100 posts will be created at the site and indirectly in other businesses once it opens, with up to half of these jobs filled by Adur residents.
It is estimated that up to £3 million worth of building contracts could be let to local companies based in Adur.
One of the biggest objections made by opponents to the plans is that the construction of the training ground will build on a community space.
The land was specifically allocated in council plans in 1996 for a pay and play golf course and then amended in 2005 to include seven community football pitches and changing rooms.
Two pitches and class rooms at the training ground will be made available for an estimated 30 hours of community use a week and the club will enter into a community use agreement with the council to enshrine this commitment legally.
Mr Perry said: “There will be slots available where we can open it up for community use and the centre will form a base for the charitable arm of the club, Albion in the Community, to be able to expand its programmes throughout the community.”
“To combat the potential loss of public sports pitches the club have reached an agreement to spend more than £1.4 million improving sports facilities elsewhere in Adur.
The agreement includes paying towards the construction of a new all-weather pitch, possibly at Monks Recreation Ground by the Sussex FA headquarters in Culver Road, Lancing.
Albion bosses also argue that the training centre will free up sports facilities the club’s youth teams currently use in Worthing, Eastbourne, Brighton and Lancing to be released back to public use.
The club argues that new rulings around the governance of football clubs has meant it is even more vital that the club upgrades itsr current facilities in order to continue pushing the club forward.
The club has recently been accredited as a category two academy under the new Elite Player Performance Plan and the current facilities at the University of Sussex don’t meet that grade.
The higher the academy rating for the club the easier it will be for Albion to attract and retain the best young talent.
Chief executive Paul Barber said the new facility would help to attract the top young talent in the region that may be lost to bigger clubs in London and that the training ground could tap into the Olympic legacy.
He added: “For any local footballer in Sussex they should be aspiring to walk through these doors and play here. It will be our contribution to this great summer of sport.”
Another issue that is sure to raise its head at the meeting next Monday will be transport access to the site.
The club is proposing that construction vehicles will travel from the A27 through the land proposed for a golf course to access the building site. However, once the centre is up and running access will be along Mash Barn Lane. The track will be upgraded to a two-way road with footways shown on both sides of the road.
The Highways Agency has raised concerns about the impact of additional traffic on the A27 and the North Lancing roundabout but the club has committed to paying for some roundabout improvement works.
Mr Perry said: “There will not be thousands of people coming down to watch a game, it will be just parents picking up their kids.
“The reason we have 300 car parking spaces is because parking will be segregated.”
Concerns have also been raised by residents about the removal of grass snakes and slow worms from the site, which began last week.
The club reached an agreement with the council to start the reptile removal before receiving planning permission as this work had to be finished before the animals start to hibernate at the end of October.
Animal experts advise their removal will take a minimum of 60 days.
However, the club says they have moved to satisfy local residents’ concerns by appointing an accredited ecologist to carry out the work and an independent ecologist to monitor it as it progresses.
Albion bosses say the work would have had to carried out if the council had built the sports pitches and their removal now has no impact on the club’s planning application.
Both the club and opponents to the scheme could have almost ten minutes to argue their point to the eight |members of Adur District Council’s planning committee next |Monday.
They could be the most important minutes of Albion’s whole season.