No Rugby Theme Park, Please
(By Randeep Ramesh, The Manchester Guardian, 11/5/98)
RUGBY was the town that gave a sport a name and the world a sport, but developers' attempts to cash in on the town's heritage with a huge theme park are being met with fierce resistance by residents.
The park - which would contain a 25,000-seat rugby stadium, a multi-screen cinema, hotel and night club - has been welcomed by rugby enthusiasts but has angered residents of the 80-home village chosen as the site for the project.
Residents of Churchover, four miles north of Rugby and a sixth the size of the 330-acre development, say any initiative should be in the town centre, not in their parish.
"The game of rugby was invented in Rugby, not in Churchover, so why don't they put it there?" said Colin McHugh, aged 54, an engineer, who has lived in Churchover from childhood. If the stadium complex gets the green light, it will be 20 yards from Mr McHugh's gate. "I have a view of the fields but if that comes here you won't be able to see anything."
Churchover, say the developers, is the ideal venue as it lies within the borough of Rugby and is only a short drive from the high street. But residents argue that the village is just outside the green belt, and if the theme park goes ahead they will lose sight of fields, find lanes swamped with traffic, and pubs filled with rowdy ravers.
"This proposal is really for an out-of-town leisure complex. The developers are just using the sport of rugby as a cover for the site's commercial activities," said Chris Down, a Churchover resident who is leading the campaign against the proposal.
What surprises many is that the proposed stadium is meant to be used by the local team, the Rugby Lions. "They cannot even get 1,000 people to watch them on a Saturday," said Janet Ellerker, another resident.
The Rugby Lions, languishing near the bottom of Rugby Union's second division, say the proposed stadium is necessary if the game is to flourish.
Mike Adnitt, managing director of the club, said: "Our existing capacity is 3,500, but new guidelines will recommend that any team looking to get into the first division will need a 10,000-seat stadium. There is no room for us to expand in town and so the only option is to build in places like Churchover."
Rugby has long planned to trade on its sporting heritage. Two years ago the council spent pounds 20,000 on a study which recommended that to attract tourists Rugby should build a stadium, preferably near the Close - the field where it all started.
The game was conceived in 1823, when, during a soccer match at Rugby School, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. It was a departure from the rules of soccer but became so popular that rugby was formally created by the school some years later.
If the council waves through the scheme, it will still have to be approved by the Environment Secretary, John Prescott.