The Editorial Number 23 : 15th December 2002
Council 'Lip Service' Never Been Enough
So, Sandwell Council have followed the lead of neighbouring Dudley by announcing that they have failed to find any suitable sites in their borough which could facilitate a new stadium for the Heathens.
The news, which is partly in response to the site search carried out by visitors to this web site, comes as little surprise to the fans who have been rapidly losing faith in the Councils who are supposed to be representing the views of their local public.
It is clear from e-mail feedback to the web site that supporters are not giving up hope, even if the search must be extended further afield. It is also clear that questions are justifiably now being asked of the Councils.
Last week's report by Sandwell officials, which was reported to the Rowley Regis Town Committee meeting, rejected site after site directly from the list suggested by web site visitors and forwarded to council members. Comments attributed to a council spokesman in the media suggested that speedway racing was too noisy for the congested urban area. I seriously doubt that any testing took place before this inaccurate assumption was made, and that no consideration was given to recent comments by Richard Caborn, the current MP for Sport. After a visit to Sheffield Speedway, Mr. Caborn declared how surprised he was at the low noise levels because he remembered speedway as a noisy sport 25 years ago!
Ironically, reporting of Sandwell's findings - or lack of them - resulted in a flurry of new site suggestions via e-mail, ranging from locations near Dudley Wood to as far afield as Kidderminster. Chairman of the Rowley town committee, Cllr Glenn Harris, also promised to take another look at a site at Lion Farm near Oldbury, after no proper reason could be offered for its rejection.
What is most disgraceful in this saga now is the way in which public feeling is being neglected by the Councils who have been elected to represent the views of local people. Dudley Council have paid lip service to supporters for seven years now, but when it comes to the crunch there appears to be no flexibility or effort on their part. Moreover, an approach was recently made by Bob Edwards and prospective developer/promoter Tony Mole to Dudley Council leader, Tim Sunter, with a list of suggested dates to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Despite some of those dates having now already passed and the Council being given ample time in advance to select the most convenient time of their choosing, there has not even been a reply.
News in the media has been largely negative of late, mainly with the Councils turning nothing up in their respective half-hearted searches. But don't be fooled that other news is not often bubbling under the surface. It is a promise made so often, but I believe most fans understand that delicate investigations and negotiations are best kept out of the public eye for as long as possible.
One particular site, which we at website HQ, have held faith with for quite some time is the former Hunts Foundry in Oldbury. Unfortunately, we are now 99% sure that the site will not be able to accommodate Cradley Speedway, but it is an example of a line of pursuit which received many, many hours of work and research and one which at one time appeared to be a perfect find. Despite a wonderful location in terms of nearby parking, access, transport links and the use of surrounding area, it is ultimately the enormous cost of this particular land which will rule out some grand stadium plans which were at one time envisaged there.
There have been other sites where enquiries have gone so far as to end up with an actual bid being made to purchase the land, or with negotiations with landowners reaching extremely advanced stages. If sites have not been ruled out due to local housing, lack of access, parking or other reasons which would inevitably end in planning refusal, then the size or cost of the land has proved too prohibitive. Sites have been offered at anything up to £1 million per acre (Remember that the eight acres of Dudley Wood was sold for that price!). Even if sufficient parking was available off-site, we would still require at least five or six acres for a new track, in my opinion, and more to create anything other than Conference standard racing.
Supporters have begun to widen the search radius from Cradley Heath, and locations such as Telford, Kidderminster, Worcester and Birmingham have entered the equation in some peoples mind. To my knowledge no serious consideration has so far been given to sites which lie this far out of the area. With quiet rumours around that Birmingham could even have their own club resuscitated, the concept of 'Birmingham Heathens' has entered some heads. Whether a 'merger', or a gesture to keep alive a traditional speedway nickname, it's bound to be an idea sure to divide fans. Compromise or insult?
Personally, I don't think such ideas are a consideration until all Black Country hopes have been given up, and the underlying message must be that those thoughts are not even on the horizon. Tony Mole is still behind the most serious attempts to acquire the necessary land and finance a new track and facilities. Bob Edwards has never stopped his tireless work of trying to find the right site and pester all the right people. At the web site we receive regular correspondence from supporters suggesting sites, offering help or giving us new information. Every message is followed up and given due consideration. If you do not receive a reply within a week, then re-send your message because something must have gone astray. We have been constantly researching locations, passing on information or formulating our own ideas. Many letters now get sent out with the Cradley Heath Speedway web site letterhead, and we feel we have considerable weight behind us with the evidence of the amount of visits and correspondence we continue to receive via email and the fans forum.
Interest and support is still very much alive, but what our next battle must be is to convince both Dudley and Sandwell Councils that they should not be giving up either. Aside from the asset that a hugely famous speedway club would be, especially backed with fifty years of sporting tradition, there are more pressing reasons why we should not be ignored by the powers-that-be.
Dudley Council have received more correspondence about the loss of our speedway club than for any other single issue in their history; 33,000 fans signed the petition to stop Dudley Wood being swallowed up by housing; this web site still receives almost 500 visits per week; thousands of people across both Dudley and Sandwell want to see Speedway return to their area. The Councils have been elected to represent the views of these people and so far the weight of this enormous public opinion has meant nothing.
Both Dudley and Sandwell have publicly supported the return of Cradley Heath speedway, but both claim to have no suitable land. However, no research has been done to our knowledge regarding noise issues and the inaccuracy of ignorant guesswork could be preventing potential progress. We all know that the perfect piece of land is not lying around the corner for us to move into, but if the council officials are really behind us then they must be prepared to bend a little to accommodate the views of their public. If the right people want something to be built, then a solution will be found. It's now about time the right people started listening to what everyone else wants too.