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Bristol’s new stadium demands determination to deliver

After years of legal wrangling over a proposed new rugby and football stadium on the edge of Bristol’s green belt, owner Stephen Lansdown decided to redevelop the existing facility instead.

Project: Ashton Gate Stadium Redevelopment
Client: Bristol Sport
Contract value: £45m
Region: South-west
Main contractor: McLaughlin & Harvey
Project manager: Capita
Architect: KKA Architects
Demolition subcontractor:  Wring Demolition
Piling subcontractor: Van Elle
Steelwork subcontractor: AIC

Stephen Lansdown, head of the Bristol Sport stable of companies that include Bristol City Football Club and Bristol Rugby, is a determined man.

After all, this is someone who, alongside business partner Peter Hargreaves, developed financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown from a bedroom start-up in 1981 to become one of the UK’s richest men with a personal fortune estimated to be around £280m.

Digging deep

He has dug deep and ploughed plenty of that fortune into trying to turn Bristol City into a footballing force and Bristol Rugby into an established top-flight side challenging against the likes of near neighbours Bath and Gloucester.

“At the time he had been told [the Ashton Gate stadium] couldn’t be successfully redeveloped. I thought they were wrong”

Martin Griffiths, Bristol Sport

Bristol Sport executive chairman Martin Griffiths was one of the first to recognise that maybe the existing site could be successfully redeveloped.

“Stephen Lansdown and I had a chat about the Ashton Gate stadium while the legal battle for the Ashton Vale site was ongoing,” he says.

“At the time he had been told the footprint was too small and couldn’t be successfully redeveloped.”

“I thought they were wrong. Obviously those that informed him had never been to Liverpool’s ground at Anfield. Let’s ignore the fact that Ashton Gate is an elderly stadium and look at what it could be.”

New stadium, new perspective

With his background in hotel and leisure development, Mr Griffiths was able to look at the scheme from a different perspective.

This included making the fans’ experience altogether more pleasant and a will to deliver a scheme that would enable the stadium to pay its way not just on a match day but on any day throughout the year.

To that end, Mr Griffiths brought in Liverpool-based KKA Architects to draw up plans for the revamp of Ashton Gate.

The two had worked together on hotel developments before and practice proposed the complete demolition and remodelling of the existing Wedlock Stand and Williams Stand and the major refurbishment of the Atyeo and Dolman Stands.

Contractor McLaughlin & Harvey has been working on the redevelopment of the ground with the focus of attention this last year having been the Wedlock Stand, relabelled the South Stand during construction.

“It has been difficult for them,” explains Steve May, technical director at project manager Capita.

“The plan had been for them to demolish their way in and build back out but there have been a few design challenges to overcome.

“That initial plan had to change so McLaughlin & Harvey has been working from the middle of the stand and working out to each end to help make sure the development has stayed on track.”

Foundation challenge

One of the main issues for McLaughlin & Harvey project manager Alan Howatson and his team was getting the piles close enough to the existing Dolman Stand where it joins the new South Stand.

“The load is very eccentric on the pile cap and so there are piles working in both compression and tension”

Alan Howatson, McLaughlin & Harvey

Columns for the new stand sit just 700 mm off the existing stand and so the new wall has been launched off a 7 m-long, 3.4 m-deep pile cap that sits over twenty 350 mm-diameter tubular steel piles driven 12 m into the ground.

“The load is very eccentric on the pile cap and so there are piles working in both compression and tension,” Mr Howatson explains.

The roof around the stadium has provided something of a headache for the construction and sporting teams this year (see box) with the huge truss that support the Dolman Stand roof only lifted into position at the beginning of May.

Source: Bristol Sport

Dolman roof lifted into place

Work has progressed well on the South Stand, though, with McLaughlin & Harvey managing the installation of the 7 m-long precast L-shaped concrete terrace sections in the months after Christmas.

They sit on beams that radiate at 7 m-centres from the pitch, and with the precast terrace units of variable heights, form a parabolic curve of terracing ensuring the view of the pitch is top quality for every spectator.

There is still some way to go before the construction team can really lift the lid on the new 27,000-capacity stadium. The ancient Williams Stand is being torn down this summer with construction of the new two-tier West Stand set to start immediately after.

But on completion at the end of 2016, Bristol Sport may not be able to boast a home Premier League football team or a Premiership rugby team, but it really will have a stadium that deserves both.

Dolman dominates new build

The existing Dolman Stand has had its critics among Bristol City supporters in the past, but Capita technical director Steve May is appreciative of its engineering qualities. It is, he claims, an incredibly efficient structure.

Designed largely by former Bristol City chairman and engineer Harry Dolman, it has its own distinctive ‘bounce’ when the big match atmosphere overtakes spectators.

It has also thrown up a few challenges for the design and construction team. The roof support stanchion at the southern corner of the existing stand impinges on spectator views, a distinct no-no for Bristol Sport.

But merely chopping out a support column would leave the minimal design of the Dolman roof dangerously out of kilter. Instead, a 106 m-long roof truss weighing in at 75 tonnes was built at pitch side.

Once hoisted into position, this transfers the load of the roof across from a new frame structure at the north-east corner of the Dolman Stand, along its length and into a new support frame built off the eccentrically loaded pile cap in the corner of the new South Stand.

The truss will not prevent the ‘bounce’ of the Dolman Stand, though, so the roof of the new stand will be brought over the top of it with a 500 mm-deep gasket between the two forming a compressible joint.

The frame stood alongside the pitch while being fabricated before being lifted into position in time for Bristol City’s final match of the season – an 8-2 thrashing of Walsall.


Fans come first at revamped Ashton Gate

The attention to detail and complete focus on what the paying spectator will require is apparent everywhere at the new Ashton Gate Stadium.

Martin Griffiths has used his background in hotel and leisure development to really bring a sharp focus on the fans’ experience – which he hopes will benefit the coffers of Bristol Sport.

New top-class restaurant facilities have been installed as part of the South Stand development and will be extended once the new West Stand is up and running.

The McLaughlin & Harvey team are busily fitting out the retail units behind the terracing and also the main bar, which it is hoped will become a focus for supporters every day of the week.

Even the cladding on the outside of the stadium has been developed with an eye on the supporters.

How to keep fans of both Bristol City – who play in red – and Bristol Rugby – who play in blue, the colour of Bristol City’s rivals Bristol Rovers – happy.

The team has come up with a cladding system that will be ‘colour-washed’ with LED lighting before every game. Blue on a Bristol Rugby match day, red on a Bristol City match day.


Dogged determination

For the most part, Stephen Lansdown’s commitment to the football and rugby clubs in question has been rewarded with mediocrity.

Apart from a brief flirtation with the Premier League through the promotion play-offs in 2008, Bristol City has failed to deliver on Mr Lansdown’s largess.

Bristol Rugby, meanwhile, once again failed in its bid to join the big league last season, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by losing out in the promotion decider to Worcester.

Mr Lansdown has even had to face up to the might of the dogwalkers from the nearby commuter village of Long Ashton. It was at Ashton Vale on the site of a former dump on the outskirts of the city that he wanted to build a completely new 30,000-capacity all-seater stadium.

Unfortunately for him, in the years following its closure, the residents of Long Ashton had started to walk their dogs across the land. They claimed protected village green status, and after years of wrangling, Mr Lansdown walked away.

Many would have thrown their hands up and carried on walking, but Mr Lansdown is clearly made of sterner stuff.

Luckily for Bristol City and Bristol Rugby he has stayed on, and decided that if he was to realise his dream of inspiring the people of the city and beyond to take up and support the area’s sporting opportunities, the redevelopment of the existing Ashton Gate Stadium was of paramount importance.

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