At the club’s Annual General Meeting this evening, the Northampton Saints management confirmed the plans and timeline for the development of Franklin’s Gardens.
The new North Stand would turn Franklin’s Gardens into a wraparound arena and in the process complete the redevelopment of the home of the Saints which was started a decade ago.
Designed by Peter Haddon Partnership, who have had a long-standing close relationship with Northampton Saints since the early-1960s, the new North Stand would see the capacity of Franklin’s Gardens increase to just under 15,500, including 10 corporate hospitality boxes, a function suite that can seat up to 270 people, a state-of-the-art stadium control room and television studio, a ground floor bar for supporters and full facilities for disabled fans.
The development, which would also confirm Franklin’s Gardens as the best dedicated rugby facility in the country, is scheduled to take place in the summer of 2013.
Saints chairman Leon Barwell said that the confirmation of the plans marked a big step forward in the continuing development not just of Franklin’s Gardens but the club as a whole.
“The development of Franklin’s Gardens is a long-standing issue, and we believe we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Barwell said. “Although we have had plans for the North Stand we have also been talking in abstracts about the timeline for the development.
“We are therefore very pleased to be in the position to confirm not just what the new North Stand will look like, but also when we intend for the development to take place. This gives us plenty of time to put together a planning application that takes into account every possible aspect and ensures that we will not be doing a rush job for the sake of it.
“The expansion of Franklin’s Gardens is crucial in the long-term development of the club and we want to make sure we do it right.”
The Saints originally announced draft plans for a new North Stand in May 2009. The plans confirmed this evening have been amended from those of just two years ago, and Barwell explained why the changes have been made.
“We believe that the plans we have announced tonight suit our needs perfectly,” he added. “They still represent the biggest single increase in capacity in the club’s history and when we are filling the seats week in, week out, we will be in the top five clubs in Europe in terms of average attendances at our regular home ground.
“We will also have the option of using stadium:mk in Milton Keynes, which will be increasing in capacity up to 32 thousand in the next 12 months and would give many more supporters the opportunity to watch the Saints than we could ever fit into Franklin’s Gardens.
“This mirrors what is now common practice across Europe and means we would fit perfectly into the template for professional rugby clubs as laid out recently by business analysts Deloitte – sustainability based on investment in our home ground together with the added profile and income resulting from matches held at a bigger stadium.
“We remain committed to the town of Northampton but we also have to ensure that the Saints does not get left behind in what is a very competitive sport. This development will give us the ability to continue our investment in the playing side of the club, including spending up to the limits of the salary cap, while continuing the sustainability of the club as a business, which after all is in the interests of everyone associated with the club.”
The increase in capacity would also see Franklin’s Gardens meet ERC’s requirements for a Heineken Cup quarter final. But Barwell also said that the development was not about just a one-off match, rather about giving more people the opportunity to watch the Saints week in, week out throughout the nine month season.
“Big matches like a Heineken Cup quarter final are great, but we have to take into account our bread and butter first, which of course means Aviva Premiership Rugby and the group stages in Europe,” he said.
“We believe that a 15 thousand stadium packed to capacity is better than 20 thousand capacity arena that is only half-full or two-thirds full. It creates a better atmosphere that the team can thrive off and means we can continue our tradition of providing a big match experience that lives long in the memory.
“Having two thousand extra people coming into Northampton to watch rugby also gives the town’s businesses a potentially larger customer base to tap into.
“The development of Franklin’s Gardens is a win-win for everyone concerned, and we look forward to progressing with the expansion of the stadium in the next two years.”