Cumbes: Old Trafford naming rights vital

Lancashire will step up their efforts to sell naming rights for Old Trafford following the latest legal victory in the redevelopment battle which the club hopes may finally have come to end.

In celebrating the High Court rejection of the latest attempt by a rival developer to scupper Lancashire’s plans, the county’s chief executive Jim Cumbes revealed that the one-year delay has already cost the best part of £5m – £1.6m in planning fees and legal advice, and more than £3m in lost grants.

“That’s a crippling amount of money for a cricket club to withstand,” Cumbes admitted. But he insisted that Lancashire still have the money and time to complete the transformation of their famous old ground before the 2013 Ashes series – although Old Trafford will almost certainly have a new name by then.

“We’ll clearly try to chase some more money,” he added. “We have already mentioned the possibility of selling the naming rights for the ground, and that is something we will certainly be looking into again now. But even with the money we’ve lost from the original scheme, we can still just about meet the requirements.

“The next step is to put the courts behind us and get on with the development as soon as possible, so we’re in a position to bid for the Ashes in 2013. It will be tight, but the completion date is still April 2013.”

Lancashire hope to meet with England and Wales Cricket Board officials at Lord’s within the next month to update them on the latest situation, and stress again the importance of securing a 2013 Test for their financial planning.

Old Trafford will have the second largest capacity of any English cricket ground, behind only Lord’s, when the redevelopment is complete, with the ability to add 10,000 temporary seats to the 15,000 permanent capacity of the ground.

“Nothing is absolutely certain, but what this does is send a message to the ECB saying ‘right guys, we’re here’,” Cumbes said. “We’re in a great position to bid for 2013, because with one Test at Durham, one at the Oval and presumably one at Lord’s, there are two more to be allocated.

“There can’t be one at Yorkshire because they’ve already got a New Zealand Test that year, so we feel reasonably confident – although obviously, there are no guarantees.”

Lancashire aren’t completely home and dry yet, as the rival developers still have a right to appeal the result of last week’s judicial review. But the mood at an Old Trafford press conference went well beyond cautious optimism.

“There’s a huge sense of relief,” said Cumbes, for whom this was a long-awaited personal triumph – although he was keen to share the credit with Trafford Council and Lancashire’s other main partners, Ask Developments and Tesco, who will now crack on with their plans to build a big new store between the two Old Traffords.

“For everybody concerned it’s been a very difficult period, and only now can you realise just how stressful it’s been,” Cumbes added. Asked about the implications if the judicial review had gone against Lancashire, he repeated: “It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Who would have thought, when he left the club and his Didsbury roots for Surrey in 1968 – and even when he returned as Lancashire’s first marketing manager in 1987 – that Cumbes would become the frontman through arguably the most significant and stressful period in the county’s recent history?

He had been due to retire in 2009, having turned 65, but was persuaded by the committee to stay on and, hopefully, to see the dream for Old Trafford come to fruition. Now, with fingers and everything else crossed, that really is going to happen.

The square has already been rotated 90 degrees so that the pitches run from north-south rather than east-west as previously, preventing the rarely-sighted Manchester sun from stopping play late in the day as it has done on several occasions in recent years.

One of the new pitches will be used for the first time for the Clydesdale Bank 40 game against Unicorns on Sunday April 24.

The next phase in the redevelopment, which began with the construction of The Point – the bright red conference centre that caused so much debate last summer – is the demolition of the double-decker Washbrook-Statham stand on the tram tracks side of the ground, to be replaced by a new building that will house players and media. That will now be behind the bowler’s arm, with the members enjoying that view from the pavilion at the opposite end.

The Washbrook-Statham stand already has a derelict appearance after the seats were removed and relocated to Accrington CC, and the “Do Not Move Behind the Bowler’s Arm” signs in the Red Rose suite which housed Thursday’s press conference are now out of date, as the stand is now at deep cover. These truly are changing times at Old Trafford.

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