St James’ Park: Architects’ comprehensive analysis of Newcastle United expansion problems and possibilities

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Newcastle-based architects Sadler Brown provide a comprehensive analysis of what a St James’ Park expansion may look like.

Newcastle United may choose not to expand St James’ Park to its full capacity potential in a bid to maintain its revered cauldron-like atmosphere on matchdays, according to architectural experts.

Newcastle-based firm Sadler Brown worked with NewcastleWorld to analyse the steps that the club may take to expand the Premier League stadium and any difficulties they may face.

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Sadler Brown have worked on ambitious projects across the globe including at Monument Metro Station, Newcastle Central Station and the Riverside Offices in the North East.

While the firm acknowledged concerns shared by some that the St James’ Park city centre positioning could cause problems with an expansion, they added that “the position of the stadium is a tremendous asset few other clubs can boast and is something that we as architects see through the lens of opportunity rather than a hindrance”.

The architects explained that the club may be weighing up a decision on whether to make quieter interventions to St James’ Park with a desire to make a bold statement of change.

Geographical expasion problems for St James’ Park

Problems that the stadium’s central positioning could face were highlighted by Sadler Brown and included structural problems posed by St James Metro station and the lines underground.

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Any expansion would also have to be sensitive to the Leazes Conservation Area and the listed buildings along Leazes Terrace outside St James’ Park - this includes a ‘right to light’, an easement that gives a landowner the right to receive light in buildings on their land.

Any plans would have to be mindful of the Leazes Conservation Area (Image: Getty Images)Any plans would have to be mindful of the Leazes Conservation Area (Image: Getty Images)
Any plans would have to be mindful of the Leazes Conservation Area (Image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Further areas for consideration include the need for clear routes to allow emergency vehicles access to the nearby Royal Victoria Infirmary along Strawberry Place, which could be impacted by some expansion plans.

Sadler Brown also pointed to the potential public disruption while any works were completed and the impact of works on the famous city skyline.

Owners could choose not to fulfill expansion potential

The need for expansion at St James’ Park has become clear this year with demand for tickets vastly outweighing the 52,000 capacity. Newcastle co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi had previously shared his desire to see St James’ Park increase to 60-65,000 capacity.

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However, Sadler Brown point out that it would not be unheard of for owners to not make the stadium as big as plans may allow. Not only could this cause stadium access and crowd management problems, but the architects point out that getting the “mood and atmosphere right” will be vital.

Sadler Brown said: “Larger stadiums have different relationships between the pitch and the spectators; sometimes the tension of the close connection between players and fans adds to the sense of theatre and heightens the sensory experience and atmosphere which could be at risk if the stadium expands too much.”

Earlier this year Newcastle United bought back the Strawberry Place land right outside the stadium after it was sold by Mike Ashley four years earlier.

The land had been flogged to developers who planned to construct 328 flats, an office block and a 213-bedroom hotel outside the Gallowgate End. However, those developers fell into financial trouble and a scrapped council bailout loan allowed the new Newcastle United owners to swoop in. News of that re-purchase in January added fuel to the fire of expansion rumours.

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The Strawberry Place Newcastle United fanzone

At the time, it was reported that rather than immediate building, the club had plans to turn Strawberry Place into a fanzone, which Sadler Brown admit is the “obvious” option.

The firm said: “It would be worth noting that, through good design, both horizontal and vertical opportunities can be maximised in a confined urban space and any proposals would be largely dependent on pedestrian and road user safety both in construction and operation.

“If this is to become a fanzone, we would anticipate there will need to include a significant open public realm space that can accommodate large numbers of supporters, such as the gathering witnessed when the recent change in ownership was formally confirmed by the Premier League.

Newcastle United bought back the Strawberry Place land this year (Image: Getty Images)Newcastle United bought back the Strawberry Place land this year (Image: Getty Images)
Newcastle United bought back the Strawberry Place land this year (Image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

“It would also be expected that the design of this space will have a strong emphasis on placemaking and landscaping where objects relevant to the club’s identity and history, like statues and memorials that can be carefully positioned for greater enjoyment.

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“A careful balance will be needed to make areas that accommodate the large crowds on match days, but that don’t sit as vast empty spaces the rest of the time when fewer people are interacting with the stadium outside of matches and events. A place for multiple uses presents a real opportunity to develop an asset for the city to serve the fans on match day and the rest of the community at other times.”

Looking ahead at using the Strawberry Place land as a site to expand St James’ Park, the group found that the area offered “huge opportunity to explore the cross-section” and to improve the movement of fans up into the stadium from the Metro and the lowest level of Strawberry Place.

How a St James’ Park expansion could look

When it comes to designing a new St James’ Park expansion, owners could follow the appearance of the Milburn and Leazes stand to consolidate the ground, but architects may advise them to try something completely original.

Sadler Brown said: “This [copying Milburn and Leazes] may not necessarily align with the ambition the owners have.

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Where do Newcastle United's owners rank in the Premier League rich list? (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Where do Newcastle United's owners rank in the Premier League rich list? (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Where do Newcastle United's owners rank in the Premier League rich list? (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“As architects, we would always encourage ideas that think big in the first instance – sometimes it is better to look forward and come up with new ideas rather than look back and simply replicate old ones.”

Authorities will ‘assist rather than resist’ stadium expansion

Despite the size of the task at hand for a St James’ Park expansion and the hurdles, developers may have to jump over to have planning submitted, Sadler Brown are confident that authorities would be keen to “assist rather than resist”.

The group said: “The prosperity of the club and it’s the amenity bought by its stadium should be seen as key to the social, and environmental sustainability of the city. As the football club flourishes the large following of fans brings life and people to the city and wider region in huge numbers, being a considerable economic and social boost.

“In light of the stadium being so intrinsic to Newcastle, the relevant authorities are here to help and assist a project, rather than resist. Any resistance from third parties is the result of managing various different interests, whether this is public safety or protecting endangered species as just two examples.

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“The success of a project can often be said as being the result of successfully managing all the different interests.

“In terms of public support, we know that the fans will take a keen interest in any emerging ideas and designs for expansion and, if the proposals broadly align with the supporters' ambitions, then there should be a majority in support.”

Sadler Brown is not and has not previously carried out any architectural services for Newcastle United and has not been contacted by the club about expansion and provided this comment to NewcastleWorld as fans of the club and architects in the city.

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