Gordon Brown: ‘I will revive Everton FC stadium, shops dream’ GORDON Brown has personally stepped in to try to save Everton’s aborted plans for a new stadium in Kirkby.
The prime minister has asked for high-level talks to focus on reviving the proposal for a 50,000-capacity stadium and a Tesco store, but without the accompanying shops that led to the scheme's rejection.
Under the new plan, the huge additional retail space would instead be built in Kirby town centre proper – one of the centres that a planning inspector ruled would be damaged by the original proposal.
Intriguingly, the rescue plan will be put forward after Mr Brown urged his ministers to find a way out of the wreckage of “Destination Kirkby”.
The prime minister is concerned not only about the impact of the rejection on the region, but also its effect on England's troubled bid to win the 2018 World Cup.
The bid organisers believe Liverpool – with its proud footballing heritage and fanaticism for the sport – simply must have a modern stadium good enough to host some of the matches.
Now Phil Woolas, the “Minister for the North West”, will meet senior officials from Knowsley council and, later, Tesco chiefs to try to breathe new life into the Kirkby move.
Senior government figures believe they enjoy some leverage over Tesco because the food giant's big expansion plans include proposed stores at major sporting venues, including the Old Trafford cricket ground.
Furthermore, Tesco chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, is a lifelong Everton supporter and is known to have been bitterly disappointed by the Kirkby knockback.
Mr Woolas said: "This issue is far from over and the needs of Everton Football Club are still real.
"The government is committed to the regeneration of both Kirby and Skelmersdale and we will be working behind the scenes with all parties to see if we can take forward a Plan B.
"We are not going to leave this to the free market. I will be meeting with local civic leaders to use government power to intervene in this."
Mr Woolas will report back to the prime minister on progress
A key issue is whether the stadium, Tesco and other shops can still be part of a single planning application – with Mr Woolas convinced they can be.
George Howarth, the Knowsley North and Sefton East MP, who supported the project, said it was "too early to say" whether the rescue plan could succeed.
But he added: "There are high-level talks and it's very encouraging that Phil Woolas, with the blessing of the prime minister, is engaging with Knowsley Council, Tesco and others to see what can be done."
It is 12 days since Communities secretary John Denham decided the £400m Destination Kirkby project would breach shopping policies designed to prevent supermarket chains from sucking business away from town centres.
However, ministers sensed a chink of light with the inspector's conclusion that it was the large amount of accompanying retail – not the Tesco store – that broke the guidelines.
After the Kirkby decision, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright told the ECHO “in terms of Kirkby the chapter is over and the book is closed.”
However government sources believe the club does still retain an interest in reviving the project, provided other parties do the “heavy lifting”. THE ECHO