Double rugby relief as Salford council takes full ownership of stadium from Peel

Salford Mayor Paul Dennett

Salford City Council has agreed to take full ownership of the Salford Community Stadium, currently known as the AJ Bell stadium, in a deal that will secure the long term future of Sale Sharks rugby union club and the Salford Red Devils Rugby League club.

The clubs from different oval ball codes share the stadium, which had been developed and half-owned by Peel Holdings, but Salford in particular were unhappy with the terms of their tenancy, which also threatened their tenure at the highest level of Super League. understands the value of the stadium is around £12m, and that the Council are spending in the region of £6m to buy Peel’s share of the stadium.

Full ownership will give the council full control of the stadium including car parking areas and training pitches, and the potential to develop the land around the site, close to the Trafford Centre and visible from the M60 at Barton Bridge.

Salford’s socialist Mayor Paul Dennett had faced opposition from the small Conservative group on the council who called in the decision to support the Red Devils, but sees it as a civic amenity that is better in public hands.

Subject to the conclusion of what Dennett described as “painstaking” discussions, the deal will bring £29m of social value to Salford, the Mayor claimed: “We’ll be able to recommit to deliver the initial vision of a community stadium for the city and its people. The future will be grounded in a new sports & leisure and rugby strategy, with links to activity, culture and health and wellbeing and fair access and opportunities. These benefits will go far beyond activities on the pitch, with full development of the site creating an anticipated 790 new jobs, delivering £28million worth of social value and attracting £65 million of private sector investment.”

But the managing director of Salford Red Devils, Paul King added a cautious welcome: “This is certainly a big step in the right direction, and hopefully this can now lead to a swiftly agreed deal.

“I can’t understate how important the conclusion of the deal is for the club. We’ve stretched as best as we can for as long as we can to get even to this point today, and once the agreement gets over the line, it really does give us access to some transformative opportunities. Not only are there commercial benefits waiting for us, but we can finally apply for the matched funding pots that are available to us through the Crowdfunder.

“Whilst bringing forward a realisation of a shared vision based on what the stadium was originally built for, an agreement allows us to become a different Salford Red Devils – a secure, and self-sustaining Salford Red Devils that thrives within the City of Salford.”

There was frustration and relief in a statement from Sale Sharks too, describing the tussle as a “protracted saga”.

Sale Sharks chief executive Paul Smith said: “The future of the Salford Community Stadium has been a protracted saga that has caused a huge amount of uncertainty both within the club and among our fanbase for too long.

“While there is still work to do, this announcement hopefully begins to draw a line under the questions around stadium ownership and allows us all to start working together to create a real hub for rugby, across both codes, in the north.

“There is a huge opportunity here to build a really special venue to support our community and develop top level sport in the region.”