Princes Park is for the whole community - EXCLUSIVE

Friday 31st March 2006

Jeremy Kite, Leader of Dartford Borough Council, describes the £6.5m Princes Park Stadium that their currently building for Dartford Football Club as “a community stadium that’s the best in the non-league world” - but the club will have to wait until the second week in September before they can finally end their fourteen year exile due to a delay caused by archaeologists, writes Stephen McCartney.

The Southern League Division One East club are currently in negotiations with Nationwide Conference club Gravesend & Northfleet to extend their groundshare agreement at Stonebridge Road before they’re given the green light to return home.

When finally opened, Princes Park can hold a maximum of 4,100 fans - 750 of them seated.

But what makes Princes Park so special is it’s covered throughout, and is situated in the town centre. It’s a stadium and venue for the entire community - which includes a “Community Pitch” and banqueting facilities.

Mr Kite tonight revealed the stadium could be used during the summer by Rugby League club Kent Ravens to continue to generate funds - but first and foremost is the home for Dartford Football Club.

£125,000 is being spent on the playing surface, which will be able to cope with the pressures of another team playing on it during the summer months.

But the buoyant, well attended meeting, held tonight (Friday) at Dartford Borough Council offices adjacent to the train station, had a downside when David Skinner, the club’s co-chairman warned fans of a potential price increase - to £9 for adults - next season.

The club are currently not registered for VAT, as their annual turnover is below the £61,000 mark.

But moving back home will generate more income, especially through gate receipts, advertising and functions, and the club are going to register for VAT before they move in.

Mr Skinner explained: “Obviously the price hasn’t changed since we’ve moved to Stonebridge Road. It’s been £7 all the three years we’ve been there.

“Obviously it’s time for an increase and as I explained in the meeting we are now having to register for VAT because in our increase of turnover, which means we have to pay £1.20 of each persons turnstile money back towards the VAT people.

“We haven’t had to do that before so if we stood where we are now and just increased it by a pound, we’d actually be losing money for every person that would come through the turnstiles.”

He added: “It’s a large increase - we understand that, which is why we’re going to promote all the discounted season and family tickets, Junior Darts and all that type off thing, which gives people cheap entry.”

Fans were shown a video of the progress being made on the site, and Mr Skinner admitted their will be “a few tears” when the Darts return home.

“Tonight went very well,” he said. “As I say I think people are starting to see the stadium taking shape.

“I think we’ve convinced all the doubters now that it’s going ahead. As I’ve said, what two or three years ago when it was first announced, it’s going to be the happiest day of my life - and it certainly will be.”

Mr Kite, meanwhile, has kept Darts fans up to date with the progress of the stadium on their fans’ forum, and admitted he’s “absolutely delighted” that they’ve almost finished the project, having started building work on 14th November.

He said: “It’s been fourteen years that they’ve been away and bringing them home was a big priority for us.

“We wanted to do it with some style. We didn’t want to give them a facility that was going to run out after a few years.

“We provided them with what they wanted so it’s best to give them exactly what they wanted and try to make sure it had a good community feel to it and get the whole community involved in football again.”

With Princes Park being built within the town centre, instead of out-of-town like many modern football stadiums, Mr Kite expects the local community to feel apart of the club - both on and off the pitch.

“You’ve got to measure the club in two ways,” he said. “I think you’ve got to measure it, first of all, in it’s attendances of course, but also you’ve got to measure the number of people in the community who take pride in the club, maybe not visit matches, but just follow them and are interested in them - and I want to get the kids involved. I want the community to get involved.”

Mr Kite describes the stadium is a “parkland setting” and felt the design of the stadium had to be right - to attract visitors not only to football matches but functions as well.

“One of the reasons why we designed it very well was because it’s got neighbours,” said the proud Council Leader.

“I think often football stadiums forget they have neighbours and they want to look at something that’s attractive.

“They don’t want to look at a dodgy old shed, so we tried to give them something that looks superb and I think they’ll love it.

“The planning application went through, given the scale of it, I was astonished. We had something like 20-30 concerns, not even complaints, just concerns, which is a tiny, tiny number.

“I think it’s because we’ve spent so much time designing it.”

* attended the meeting at the Blue Room tonight and we shall bring you more views on Princes Park on Sunday.  Please let us know your views, click on "Contact us" and we shall publish them.