Uncertainty clouds Old Trafford as decision day looms

American Independence Day will have a very different significance for Lancashire this summer, as a Court of Appeal hearing to determine whether their plans to redevelop Old Trafford will be reborn – or crushed – takes place on the fourth of July.

“It’s a real day of destiny,” said the club’s chief executive Jim Cumbes, not for the first time – but hopefully the last – in a process that has been maddeningly and damagingly drawn out from Lancashire’s point of view.

It is well over a year since they were granted planning permission by Trafford Council for the £32m project, funded mostly by Tesco, to give the ground the make-over necessary to secure the future of international cricket in the north-west.

But Derwent Holdings, a company owned by the Kwik Save billionaire Albert Gubay, have launched a series of challenges to the Council’s preference for a new Tesco superstore that is part of Lancashire’s plans over a Sainsbury’s that they were hoping to build on a nearby site – and have now secured an appeal date next month.

“The future prospects for the club will rest on the decision, make no mistake,” added Cumbes. “We are confident of winning and bringing to an end a protracted legal process which has been draining the club financially and preventing us from transforming our ageing ground and facilities.”

The delays have already cost Lancashire more than £5m in funding and legal fees, but crucially they insist they could still complete the redevelopment in time to stage a Test in the 2013 Ashes series – which is imperative for their financial projections.

They have been aided by the changes and subsequent delays to the system of bidding for international matches, with the ECB now not expected to make a final decision on the venues for the 2013 and 2015 Ashes series until September.

Lancashire submitted their final bid to the ECB this week but they are effectively competing with Trent Bridge and Edgbaston for the two Tests that remain available in 2013.

They have gone deeper into debt to start work on the ground despite the ongoing uncertainty, with two permanent floodlights already erected, and the old double decker stand demolished to make way for a new facility for players and media opposite the pavilion.

“The fact that we have already started making improvements to the ground is a massive statement of intent,” said Cumbes, who urged Gubay to drop his legal challenge – a message that Andrew Flintoff has also been trying to convey via a Twitter campaign.

But all previous evidence that Lancashire face another four weeks of nerve-wracking uncertainty – and that the mood at Old Trafford for their home Twenty20 Cup game against Derbyshire on July 3 will be very strange indeed.

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