Old Trafford rebuild given go-ahead

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Three Court of Appeal judges gave the go-ahead today to a multimillion-pound regeneration plan for one of the England's most famous cricket grounds.

A property company said a local authority was wrong to give Lancashire County Cricket Club permission to redevelop its Old Trafford stadium in Manchester - and asked the Court of Appeal to block the plan.

Lawyers for Derwent Holdings, which owns a retail park near Old Trafford, told the appeal court in London that Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council acted unfairly when it gave the plan the green light last year.

But judges disagreed and said the redevelopment should go ahead. They said they would give reasons for their decision at a later date.

Lancashire's chief executive, Jim Cumbes - a former Lancashire quick bowler and West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa goalkeeper - said the decision was one of the most significant events in the club's 154-year history.

He said redevelopment was essential if Old Trafford was to continue as an international cricket venue.

"This is one of the biggest days in the club's history," said Mr Cumbes, after today's hearing.

"If we don't redevelop then 150-odd years of history would have been in danger of disappearing.

"With redevelopment, I am confident that 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."

Mr Cumbes said the club aimed to start re-building in September - at the end of the 2011 cricket season - and aimed to have the new ground ready for the 2013 cricket season.

Derwent had argued that councillors were given "wholly confused advice" about the plan - which includes proposals for the creation of a Tesco superstore near the ground - and were "not properly advised" on policy before granting the cricket club planning permission.

Council bosses, Lancashire and Tesco disputed Derwent's arguments and said appeal judges should allow redevelopment to go ahead.

Judges were told that in 2010 the council had refused Derwent permission to create a superstore on its White City Retail Park.

The appeal was the latest legal battle over the redevelopment of Old Trafford, which Lancashire say is needed to ensure that the ground remains fit to host Test matches.

In December 2010, Derwent sought a judicial review of the council's decision in the High Court but that attempt to block the plan was dismissed by a judge in March 2011. The firm was today appealing against that High Court decision.

Lancashire bosses say jobs will be lost and the local economy will suffer if Old Trafford loses its Test match status and is downgraded to a county ground.

Judges heard that part of the proposed development would see a former school playing field built on.

But Lancashire said the land had not been used as a playing field for a decade and said expansion would produce a "greater community benefit" because it would enable the club to provide "expanded sporting facilities ... through local education".

Old Trafford opened in 1857 and first staged Test cricket in 1884. Manchester crowds have witnessed some of the greatest moments in cricket, including Jack Hobbs' 197th and last century at the age of 51 in 1934, and Jim Laker taking 19 Australia wickets in 1956.