The Pompey Supporters’ Trust’s stadium taskforce have delivered their carefully-considered verdict.
The future is Fratton Park.
‘People have to be aware this is just the Trust looking at this from a fans’ point of view, this is not how the club is going to do things,’ said Mike Saunders.
‘We have advised the club board of our conclusion that Fratton Park holds the best opportunities.
‘Unless there is land nobody has explored before or something comes out of the woodwork, then all sites previously looked at are no longer viable.
‘The best option really is Fratton Park.’
Saunders is a registered architect with more than 16 years experience in professional practice – he is also overseeing the Trust’s voice in the fate of Pompey’s 118-year home.
In March, the Trust sounded a call to arms among members to aid in the creation of three stadium sub-groups, with 50 volunteers stepping forward.
Yet it is the group focused on long-term strategy which has proven the most progressive.
Involving 14 supporters, among them former Portsmouth City Council planning officers Barry Harmer and Mike Allgrove, they have carried out a fresh assessment of potential stadium sites.
And the recommendation to Pompey’s board is to remain at Fratton Park.
Saunders, a Trust board member, added: ‘The short-term group had lots of ideas about little things to improve Fratton Park, most of which were implemented in the summer, while other suggestions weren’t viable.
‘The case study group haven’t got going as much as I would have liked.
‘Yet the long-term group have been very active and a draft report based on all sites looked at during the last 40 years was forwarded to the club board in August.
‘Some people have mentioned Furze Lane as a potential site. However, while there is land there, you just cannot get to it down Locksway Road.
‘Another mentioned before is Burnaby Road, which has open land and is close to a train station so potentially is a developable site. But if you can’t get hold of the land there is no point looking.
‘As a city, Portsmouth is so restrictive but the council’s Portsmouth Plan defines the whole of the Fratton Park area as ripe for a stadium.
‘It is accessible by car along the Eastern Road, there is Fratton station nearby and it is quite central to the island so you can walk there.
‘It’s about as good as you are going to get on Portsea Island – unless you stick the stadium out of town.’
The group are presently compiling a second report, focused on the viability of the Fratton Park site.
According to pages 62 to 64 of Portsmouth City Council’s Portsmouth Plan (2012), redevelopment of the site to the benefit of the club is supported.
Part of that land was developed in November 2015 as a Tesco store, yet the sub-group believe there remains room for a 30,000-seater stadium.
Saunders hopes that feasibility study can be handed to the Trust board by the year’s end.
He said: ‘The big bonus is the council are keen for the club to stay and redevelop, which removes planning as a major stumbling block.
‘Some think the site is too tight but there is room to develop a 30,000 ground by either rotating or keeping the same orientation on club land.
‘In terms of stadium development, we have looked at three options.
‘We can keep the same orientation and build a much bigger North Stand and Milton End, extend the Fratton End, before eventually refurbishing the South Stand to ensure the historical features are maintained.
‘Another way would be to rotate it like the 2004 scheme, extending the Fratton End northwards and building a North Stand, creating a capacity of a little more than 30,000.
‘The third option would be to build a new stadium to the north of the ground but, looking at the state of the land which pinches in the middle, it is not ideal and we have abandoned that.
‘It is about pulling all this stuff together, saying what’s possible and then looking down that route.’
Meanwhile, since August, Pompey have employed the services of an independent stadium/property consultant.
His remit involves exploring options and taking feedback from all interested parties – including the Trust and club presidents.
Chief executive Mark Catlin said: ‘It is vitally important in any business you employ people who are specialists in their own given field.
‘You want someone with experience and knowledge in redevelopment and new stadiums, so he can examine the options and different funded models.
‘He will then present a full report to the board so they are able to make an informed decision in regards of the strategy moving forward, whether it be at Fratton Park or elsewhere.
‘I don’t think you can put a time frame on such an important decision.
‘The club will not be rushed into committing to anything until it has looked at the various options and how it is going to fund it.’
Another voice in the process are the presidents, headed by Peter Lee.
‘Any decision on staying at Fratton Park or moving to a new stadium at a different location needs to be backed by a financial business case which supports us playing at Championship level or above,’ insisted Lee.
‘For the sake of the long-term health of the club, it would be foolish to make a decision on our stadium infrastructure if it restricts us to only being able to compete League One and Two on an ongoing basis.’
Once Pompey’s board have studied both Trust reports, the full findings will be released early in the new year, with fans to then be consulted.
And Saunders is encouraged by the club’s willingness to listen to views.
He added: ‘Everyone is singing from the same song sheet, but these are still early days.’