It's lose, lose for Prescott in row over Liverpool FC

Deputy Prime Minister put on spot by 'yes' and 'no' camps as he prepares to make decision on development of £80m stadium
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The Independent Online

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, will this week wade into the row over the new £80m stadium for Liverpool Football Club.

The planned development, based in Stanley Park, a few hundred yards away from Liverpool's existing home at Anfield, is supported by Liverpool City Council, the local MP Peter Kilfoyle and many residents in the area.

However, it is facing strong opposition from the North West Development Agency, a body which is part of Mr Prescott's Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

If, as is widely expected, Mr Prescott backs Liverpool City Council's decision to give Stanley Park planning permission, he will face accusations of a lack of joined-up government. But if he calls the project in for planning review, he will be accused of holding up the regeneration of one of the poorest areas in Britain.

The NWDA's objections are based on its belief that Liverpool FC and arch-rival Everton should come together in a single, ground-sharing scheme. Everton's board has also said it would be interested in a ground- share project.

The NWDA has up to £45m of money available to back such a development.

However, Rick Parry, chief executive of Liverpool Football Club, said that it was committed to developing Stanley Park for its use only. "We philosophically feel it should be a single-use stadium," he said. "Our supporters are among the strongest in opposition to ground sharing."

Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the NWDA, said: "The agency has always supported the principle of a shared stadium as it would have the potential to make an important contribution to the regeneration of north Liverpool.

"The NWDA has not committed funds towards the cost of a stadium. We are currently considering our view on this possible investment in the context of a decision by the two clubs on ground sharing."

Mr Parry said the NWDA told the club of its views six months ago, some four years after Liverpool first started talking about a new ground development. "We did, in good faith, explore with the agency a number of options to see if a model could be found, but none was acceptable," he said.

The Stanley Park stadium will cost about £80m, which Mr Parry said Liverpool would fund through bank loans. Another £40m is needed for redevelopment projects in Stanley Park and at the old Anfield stadium.

Around £15m of this will be coming from the European Union, and the NWDA has been asked to come up with the rest. If it continues to object to Liverpool's project, this could develop into a serious row.

Peter Kilfoyle, the MP for Liverpool Walton, which covers Stanley Park, said he was angry about the NWDA's objections in the absence of firm proposals for a ground-sharing scheme. He would oppose any plans by Mr Prescott to call in the Stanley Park development: "It would be astonishing if the best hope for regeneration were delayed or scuppered by a decision by the minister who has the responsibility for regeneration."

Everton's ground at Goodison Park is barely a mile away from the new Liverpool project, at the other end of Stanley Park. The club had planned to move to a new development at King's Dock but the project fell through.

Everton is not believed to have the money for a new stadium. Its financial difficulties led it to sell its top player, Wayne Rooney, for £27m last week. However, only £10m of that is immediately payable. A deal for a Russian investor to back a £20m cash injection fell through last month.