Why Fratton station threatens to delay Portsmouth's Fratton Park redevelopment
The potential redevelopment of Fratton station is pivotal to fulfilling Pompey’s Fratton Park vision.
That’s the message from Mark Catlin, who is adamant Tornante’s ambitious plans for the 120-year-old stadium are largely reliant on assistance from Network Rail and Portsmouth City Council.
Pompey are hoping to grant supporters their first glimpse of artist impressions of a new Milton End within two weeks, ahead of lodging a planning application.
However, Catlin insists Fratton station must be overhauled in order to meet increased demands generated by a Fratton Park capacity rise.
Suggestions tabled include the creation of a new bridge leading from the Goldsmith Avenue station and extending existing platforms, both to accommodate more match-day and corporate visitors.
And the Blues’ chief executive believes Network Rail and the council must firstly fit the bill in order for Tornante’s Fratton Park expansion to commence.
Catlin told The News: ‘To a degree, we are reliant on the help of local stakeholders, including the council and Network Rail.
‘I also want to be clear, to keep people’s feet on the ground, unless we get some commitment from them then we can’t start our work.
‘By investing X amount of millions in the Milton End, there is then obviously a commitment to remain at Fratton Park. Yet we have always tried to keep an option open of a potential move elsewhere given a certain set of circumstances.
‘Fratton Park, as an area, cannot cope with a 30,000 capacity. In addition, a more pleasant environment is required if you want to attract FTSE 100-type companies to corporate facilities to justify investment into a new North Stand.
‘That includes your drive into Fratton as an area – and most people arrive via the train station.
‘In 5-10 years we could have a lovely new Milton End, a lovely new North Stand and amazing conference facilities, all achieved having spent the same amount of money as building a new stadium elsewhere.
‘What we don’t want, however, is to find we can’t fill it because the local infrastructure doesn’t allow us – or we are under pressure from governing bodies in regards of potential capacity reductions if we don’t put those infrastructure projects in place.
‘The Milton End, in isolation, is a corner piece of the jigsaw, so you start building out from there. What we don’t want is starting that, committing huge sums of money, and then losing any leverage for moving away.
‘The big one for us is Fratton station, this gateway into the area, not only how it looks but how it works operationally. We’ve had surveys done and it is dangerous.
‘It has a short platform, it needs to be expanded. This is all about safety, getting people in and having a great match-day experience. Even with our current capacity, coming off that station onto Goldsmith Avenue is a hazard.
‘It’s not a case of needing a few tins of paint, it needs major, major work, both in regards to how it looks and the infrastructure required to get fans safely into a Fratton Park with increased capacity.
‘We clearly see this as a Network Rail/council issue to deal with and, effectively, need a commitment that is going to happen.’
According to Catlin, ‘positive’ talks are continuing among all parties.
The Blues’ ongoing ground aspirations are also being aided by former Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones, who holds the position of strategic stadium development consultant with the club.
And Catlin is hopeful National Rail and the council can be persuaded to play their own part in the redevelopment of Pompey’s home.
He added: ‘From Fratton station, we would like to see an alternative route into Fratton Park, we know it can be done, it’s just who can fund it.
‘There is potential for a different walkway, there is a way to beautify the station, but that is not our responsibility. We have money to invest into the club – we don’t feel we should be investing it in Fratton station.
‘In my opinion, this is why we have a local council and why we have Network Rail, this is their infrastructure, their assets. By doing what we have planned, we’ll hopefully bring a lot of people into the area, so I feel they should be on that journey with us.
‘The ball is in their court, although there is a question from both about where they are going to get the money from.
‘We are in discussions and the discussions are positive, but at some point we want to see a commitment before progressing to the next stage.
‘The council have been very supportive, we are working with them. Who knows whether major infrastructure projects will be part of the mandate of the new government and the money can flow from central to local government to allow that to happen?
‘I don’t know, I’m not a politician.’
Although full details of the Milton End development have still to be released, proposals include an increase in the existing 2,800 capacity.
However, due to housing positioned behind, a new stand would have to remain at the existing height.
But any work depends on the outcome of continuing discussions with Network Rail and the council.
Catlin added: ‘Fratton Park needs major refurbishment if it wants to align itself with our plans for the stadium.
‘It has to be done correctly, it’s a one-off opportunity, we don’t want to bodge it, we want to do it properly.
‘You are very restricted with what you can do with the Milton End, there is housing at the back and height issues.
‘I don’t want to go into figures at the moment, but there will be an uplift in capacity above the current 2,800, while we could change how the away end is allocated to visiting supporters.
‘The North stand is out of our control, unless there is a change of policy of the board – and there could be, you have to be pragmatic in life, especially in business.
‘But, as we currently stand, our strategy is to not start the Milton End until we get a buy-in from local stakeholders, including Network Rail and the council.’