Gloucestershire want to build the world’s “most environmentally sustainable” cricket ground and host one of the Hundred’s possible expansion teams by selling the Nevil Road site that has been their home since the days of WG Grace.
Speaking to the Guardian during a week of talks with the club’s members, Will Brown, the chief executive, has outlined the vision for a possible 20,000-seat venue that would break the reliance on central funding from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) that has seen the club post losses in recent seasons.
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While still at the idea stage, the plan involves cashing in on the County Ground – the club’s much-loved home since 1889 but prime real estate in a rapidly growing city such as Bristol – and building on a greenfield site in south Gloucestershire with a hotel, retail outlets and year-round facilities.
As well as potentially hosting matches in the 2030 men’s T20 World Cup that is being held in England, Scotland and Ireland, a county that has seen rain and drainage issues scupper its last four men’s ODIs is hoping this move will secure – and possibly increase – its future allocation of international fixtures.
“The history and heritage of Nevil Road is massively important but it’s a classic sports car and we probably need a bigger family vehicle,” said Brown. “We’ve not outgrown it yet, but that time is creeping up. The finances indicate we need to diversify our income streams; to find a way to be sustainable.
“The dependency on ECB is significantly greater for what you might call non-Hundred venues and around 85% of that ECB funding isn’t linked to inflation. In real terms, it’s worth roughly £750,000 less in 2024 than back in 2020.
“That’s not the ECB’s fault, but it says we need to take control of our destiny, rather than waiting for someone else to find a solution.”
That non-Hundred status is something the club would like to address well in advance of any move, with the club expected to push hard for a franchise should the ECB expand the tournament to 10 teams from 2025 onwards. Somerset would be rivals for a spot in the south-west, while Durham want to host a north-east side.
Brown said: “Bristol and the south-west have suffered as a result of not having a direct link to the Hundred. We still stand by the fact that Bristol and Nevil Road meet the things that the ECB wanted at the time and say are still important.
“It’s the fastest growing city outside London, hugely diverse and with young families – the heart of what they want to do. And while we know we can do a very good job right now at Nevil Road, we want to do an outstanding job in 10 years’ time.”
Moving out of Bristol to a potential site near the M4 would appear to affect the club’s accessibility but Brown expects the city’s broader expansion – and the resulting infrastructure – to see it in effect become an urban venue.
As signatories to the United Nation’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and its pledge to reach net zero by 2040 – plus having led the way for English cricket in recent times with a number of green initiatives – the club say they would aim to make environmental considerations central to the new venue.
Brown said: “Climate change is the single biggest issue. We are fiercely proud of what we have done so far and net zero would be massive. I’d like to think we won’t comply, we’ll go above and beyond to make the most environmentally sustainable cricket ground in the world. The next generation won’t accept that we only tried.”
While leaving the County Ground would be an emotional wrench – and not a given, with the executive still needing to firm up the plan – Brown insists the club’s history will be weaved into any new venue. And though the idea predates last year’s £570,000 loss and the washed-out ODI against Ireland in September that highlighted the ground’s shortcomings, both have sharpened the resolve.
Brown added: “That ODI [against Ireland] goes to the heart of it; the last Tuesday in September against, with all due respect, lower-ranked opposition. Had we got New Zealand on a Sunday two weeks earlier, the difference might have been £400,000 in revenue. We get one England match a summer and it’s still our major payday.
“We have to de-risk so our dependance on one single day isn’t so great. And we want to get more, two, maybe three men’s internationals, more women’s internationals, plus the Hundred – or whatever the competition is in future.”
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