Crested newts kick PNE training complex into extra time
The bulldozers are ready to move in and so too are the men with shovels.
But work on Preston North End’s new state-of-the-art training complex will be delayed a while longer in the interests of conservation.
First it was the city council’s planning committee holding things up, now it’s an even more formidable opponent - the great crested newt.
And nothing can get underway on the Ingol Golf Club site until the native species, protected under UK law, have been moved to a new home.
Early October is now expected to be kick-off time for the £14m project, meaning it is unlikely to be ready for the start of pre-season training next summer as PNE had hoped.
“Our objective has always been to get moving as soon as possible,” said Peter Ridsdale, adviser to the football club’s owner Trevor Hemmings.
“But it looks like we won’t be able to start now until the autumn. There are a lot of things we need to do ecology wise.”
The rejection of North End’s first planning application in June has put the project back two months, all-but scuppering hopes of a summer move from the old training ground at Springfields.
Nothing was allowed to happen until the revised plans were agreed by councillors last week. Now it looks like it will be into next season before the players can move into their new home.
The club has re-assessed the timescale and is hoping it will be in before the end of 2018. But the exact completion date is likely to be weather-dependent.
PNE officials met architects on the 25-acre site this week and Peter Ridsdale admitted: “We want to crack on, we aren’t going to hang around.
“The two-month delay was disappointing. But that’s gone now.
“We have agreed the appropriate licences for the ecology on site, like the relocation of the newts.
“We would like it to be all systems go, but it won’t be before next summer.
“Our objective is to get into it in 2018. If it is in the close season then fantastic.
“That will be a real pinch. But certainly by the end of the year.”
Whenever it is completed, the new training ground will be a facility fit for the Premier League.
North End have real ambitions to reach the top flight of English football sooner rather than later and having a complex to match that status is seen as essential to attracting top flight players.
The club says a first class training base is “imperative” if it is to fulfil its dream of returning to the big league and competing with the best.
The planning application also includes permission to build up to 450 houses on the former golf club and the creation of a public park twice the size of Avenham and Miller Parks in the city.
Once the main building at the training ground is completed it will house administrative staff, meaning the club can demolish the current office accommodation adjacent to the Deepdale stadium.
Brent Clayton, a partner at architects the Frank Whittle Partnership, said: “We are hoping to get started at the beginning of October.
“All the work (pitches and buildings) will be going on at the same time. It’s going to be quite a turn around.
“The club were originally looking to get it finished for the start of pre-season. But, unfortunately, with the planning issues that’s not going to be the case.
“It takes 30 days to get a licence and then 60 days to move the newts on.”