OFFICERS from Thurrock Council have urged Grays Athletic to come forward and officially start discussions over a new ground for the promotion-chasing Ryman Premier League club.
At the weekend the club, which has been homeless for five seasons since leaving its historic town centre home at the New Recreation ground on Bridge Road, announced that it had the funds in place to build a community stadium.
The announcement followed a general election hustings debate held at the Thameside Theatre last Wednesday when two of the candidates to be Thurrock’s next MP, Labour’s Polly Billington and UKIP’s Tim Aker, expressed their feelings that they wanted to see the club back in the town and they would support moves to make that happen.
That prompted the club to say: “The board of Grays Athletic have taken great heart in the positive response during the hustings.
“There now appears to be the beginnings of some positive talk about the club returning home to Grays.
“Grays Athletic would like to announce that if Thurrock Council can provide suitable land with the relevant planning permission in Grays, the club are ready and are prepared to build a new community stadium and have all the funding in place.
“The debate has raised the club’s hopes, and if the relevant parties and Council are serious and wish to move forward, the club are ready to meet with the Council and are prepared to put forward plans to build a reasonable size community stadium, a stadium that the people of Grays and Thurrock can be proud of and one we can finally call home .
“It’s time now for every Grays Athletic fan to stand up and be counted.
“Everyone involved at Grays Athletic are determined to build a community based football club in Grays and the building of a new community stadium will enable the club to build strong ties with the people of Grays and Thurrock as a whole.
“We are ready to move the club home and we look forward to further discussions with Thurrock council and the relevant councillors.
“Let’s make our dream come true!”
That was greeted with a hugely positive response from supporters, but the official response from Thurrock Council was that they are still waiting the club to approach them.
That has been confirmed by Grays supremo Andy Swallow, who addressed fans’ queries about club issues in a Q&A session on the supporters’ forum on Tuesday evening where he said: “We haven’t yet spoken to the Council. Once that meeting takes places I can have a lot more clarity.”
However, he did add that he thought it was likley the club would be seeking to utilise a 4G artificial pitch at a site which he hoped would be close to the town centre.
The Enquirer understands informal talks have taken place between representatives of the club supporter’s trust and some councillors and that officers within the authority have been asked by Council leader Cllr John Kent to identify possible sites.
However, senior officers have confirmed that as yet, no official approach has been made to them – and the Council has drawn parallels between the successful application by Aveley FC to identify a ground and also negotiations with East Thurrock United FC, which has seen a price established for a parcel of land in Stanford-le-Hope for them to relocate to.
Work has already started on Aveley’s development at Belhus and the Millers hope to move from their existing Mill Field ground to Belhus Park for the 2016-17 season. Plans have been approved for a new stadium and other pitches on land which the club has purchased from Impulse Leisure, reportedly for Â£1m. The overall cost of the Aveley project is said to be around Â£2.7m.
East Thurrock United submitted a request to purchase the Billet Recreation ground in Stanford-le-Hope and an independent valuer put a price tag of Â£340,000 on the land. East Thurrock are to be in the process of putting together an initial planning application for the site and representatives of the club have met with Council officers regarding both the Billet and the redevelopment of their existing ground at Rookery Hill for housing.
A Council spokesman told the Enquirer: “As always Thurrock Council is happy to work with all local organisations to help them improve their circumstances – for example Aveley and East Thurrock United football clubs have taken advantage of the Council’s advice and assistance.
“The Council would look at the provision of sports club needs through the Active Place Strategy work it is currently undertaking as part of the Local Plan process.
“That is why it is important Grays Athletic’s representatives contact the planning department to arrange for the club to come in and discuss their thoughts/plans/aspirations at the earliest opportunity.”
A spokesperson for Grays told the Enquirer that the club recognised the financial challenges ahead but added: “By no means are we asking for a piece of land for free but we want to find a piece of land that the club could purchase or rent.”
While the debate about Grays’ future off the pitch goes on, the club are enjoying a great end to the season and tonight (Wednesday) contest the final of the Ryman Robert Dyas League Cup final against Hendon at Whyteleafe FC and the two sides will clash again on Saturday at Mill Field, where Grays will be hoping for a win to keep their hopes of snatching fifth place and a Ryman Premier play-off place alive..