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  National Football Centre
We were planning to write an article celebrating the triumphant England 2018 world cup bid and the boost it will give the construction industry and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately that was not meant to be and FIFA took the decision to award the tournament to Russia. In consolation, and to show that the bid was not a complete waste of time and effort, we look instead at the National Football Centre soon to be built int the Midlands. The FA finally gave the go ahead to the project earlier this year in an effort to show there commitment to world class facilities and to bolster the 2018 bid.

The project itself has seen its fair share of scandal, funding problems, and legal wranglings and at some points seemed like it would be shelved altogether.

10 Years of Hurt...

The scheme first got off the ground in February 2001 when the Football Association (FA) bought 350 acres of Byrkley Park Estate in Burton-upon-Trent for a reported £2 million. Planning permission was granted for the original scheme in June of the same year and the centre was predicted to be open by 2003 but this fell by the wayside when the projects two main proponents, chief executive Adam Crozier and Howard Wilkinson, both left the FA.

By September 2004, the development of the new Wembley Stadium was taking up much of the attention as well as the available finances. Tabloid scandals at FA headquarters also caused further distractions, resulting in the plans for the National Football Centre fading into the background. Things appeared even bleaker by November 2006 when the FA was reported to have voted to scrap the project altogether. However, it eventually reconsidered and instead delayed any final decision.

In May 2007 following comments by Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA Development Director, stressing the importance of establishing the National Football Centre, the FA board gave the go-ahead for the centre and six months later finally confirmed that it would be based in Burton-upon-Trent. The caveat was that the go-ahead was dependent on planning permission for a revised scheme being granted and finance being obtained.

Following another two years of delay resulting from the £70 million black hole in the FA budget, caused by the collapse of the Setanta TV channel, things finally started to look up. In January 2010, the FA pledged to have planning permission and funding finalised by July. The aim was to have the facility open in time for the London Olympics.

A Lack of Local Support...

The major remaining obstacle was a legal challenge by local residents, who were angry that the revised plans now included a hotel and residential development.The FA insisted that the revisions were necessary to fund the project, with the residential development expected to raise £6.5 million towards an estimated £13 million funding gap. The intention is to sell the hotel and the FA has not ruled out the possibility of further housing being built. Unsurprisingly, local residents have concerns about the new additions causing an adverse impact on the environment, the local schools and the surrounding roads.

Although the local council admitted that new housing in the area was contrary to its planning policy and principles, it granted planning permission for the whole project in May 2010. The reasons it gave was that it feared the FA may not go ahead with the project if housing was not allowed and that it thought the overall benefit outweighed any harm caused by the development.

World Class Facilities...

Despite the problems, the project is finally about to move decisively forward. The centre, which is now to be known as St. George's Park, will cost an estimated £105 million. The FA board has now approved the final plans, agreed the work schedules and approved a commitment from the FA's National and Game Boards to underwrite the cost. Contractors in the running to undertake the construction include Bowmer & Kirkland, Kier and Shepherd, with work due to start in January.

The centre is thought to be based on France's Clairefontaine academy, which is credited with developing French internationals and contributing to the country's last World Cup win. The English version is to be the training base for all England teams, a centre for educating football coaches, the headquarters of the League Managers' Association and have educational links to provide a University of Football.

Facilities will include twelve full-size football pitches, one being synthetic, a full-size indoor pitch and a multi-purpose sports hall. Added to this will be a 90-seat lecture theatre, training and seminar rooms, banqueting suite, conference facility and a digitally equipped library. There will also be changing facilities, a gymnasium, hydrotherapy suite, sports medicine and sports science facilities. To help pay for all this there's a 230-bed hotel and the 28 houses that upset the local residents with the remainder being funded by the FA.

So whilst this may feel like scant consolation in light of the recent 2018 disappointment it may be that this centre will be the construction industry's most important contribution to the national game. If the centre can churn out players to the same quality as those that came through Clairefontaine in the 90's then the national side will be far better positioned to win a World Cup. With the centre expected to open in 2012, what better way for England to respond to FIFA's recent decision than to field a world cup winning team at Russia 2018.

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