Three judges in the Court of Appeal in effect saved Old Trafford cricket ground for the nation yesterday. Sentiment will have played no part but had they decided that permission for a £32m redevelopment should be refused the arena may have slipped quickly into decay and disuse, and more than 150 years of English sporting history with it.
The ruling means that Lancashire County Cricket Club can now proceed with their plan to bring into the 21st century a ground that barely entered the 20th. Work will begin in September on new grandstands, dressing rooms and a refurbished pavilion, which will be the only remnant remaining of the old ground.
Lancashire are not yet home free because the delays in having their plans finally approved have cost them £2m in grants. Their budget is also partly based on attracting a money-spinning Ashes Test to the ground in 2013. Without the ground being redeveloped this would have been out of the question and even now Old Trafford will be involved in a bidding war with grounds old and new.
They will be aware that the England and Wales Cricket Board's major matches group is about on a par with Court of Appeal of judges when it comes to letting sentiment intrude in its rulings. The club will have to ensure they put in a considerable bid, which is also one they can afford.
But yesterday's ruling was cause for much delight. Jim Cumbes, the club's endlessly likeable chief executive who has postponed his retirement to see his cherished dream come to fruition, said after the hearing: "This is one of the biggest days in the club's history. If we don't redevelop then 150-odd years of history would have been in danger of disappearing.
"With redevelopment, I am confident Old Trafford can continue as an international cricket ground. Today's decision means that the work can start and we can get the spades out."
It took Lancashire long enough to act as the ground became ever shabbier in the last 25 years. When at last they did so, recognising that Old Trafford's place at the international table was no longer guaranteed, they assembled a workable scheme in partnership with Trafford Borough Council.
They cannot have imagined the resistance they would then confront. At the heart of it has been a dispute over planning permission for a supermarket. Lancashire's scheme involved the construction, a few hundred yards from Old Trafford, of a Tesco store, a move opposed by Derwent Holdings, run by supermarket mogul and property developer Albert Gubay.Reuse content