by Simon Mills
THE Rugby Football Union has unveiled ground redevelopment plans that will change the face of the home of English Rugby.
A planning application has been submitted for the building of a new South Stand complex at a projected cost of around Â£80million.
The project will complete the enclosure of the playing surface, improve spectator facilities and raise the all-seater capacity of the ground from 75,000 to 82,000 by October 2004.
Within the South Stand structure will be a 200-bed luxury hotel, conference and exhibition space, a health and fitness club, office facilities for RFU staff and a new RFU Store.
Architects Ward McHugh believe the redevelopment will have the dramatic visual impact of "an impressive and elegant building complex with a feeling of quality and sense of location".
The development will also strengthen the RFU's ties with the local community. Included in the plans is a 400-seat performing arts venue for use by local music and drama groups.
"The brief to the architects was to come up with a scheme where everyone benefits," said RFU chief executive Francis Baron.
The new complex that replaces the current 22-year-old South Stand will generate new funding streams for the RFU from increased capacity, the hotel, health and fitness club, conference and corporate hospitality.
The business community of South West London will also benefit, according to an appraisal by independent consultants Bone Wells. The completed stadium will boost the local economy within a 10-mile radius by approximately Â£40million per year and create around 200 new full-time jobs.
"We are very conscious that Twickenham Stadium is part of the local community and there are many benefits associated within the scheme," added Baron.
"We will be consulting widely on these plans, but I hope most of our neighbours will conclude that any impact upon them is minimal and that the performing arts and other facilities are of real benefit. Hopefully they, like us, will be proud that Twickenham is at the heart of English rugby and of the community."
If planning approval is granted by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, work on the site could start in June 2003 with the stand completed by October 2004 and commercial facilities opening in the summer of 2005.
Matches at Twickenham taking place during the redevelopment will not be affected and the capacity of the stadium will not drop below 65,000 while work is taking place.
"I'm delighted we're taking the stadium into the 21st Century," said RFU President Derek Morgan.
"For the players, it will be a world class venue in which England can perform and I'm sure the completed ground will generate a wonderful feelgood factor and dramatic atmosphere for all the big games."
The project is the latest stage in the life of the venue that staged its first international match 92 years ago when England beat Wales 11-6 in 1910.
The last major wave of development work at the stadium took place in the early 1990s, with the North, West and East stands completed in 1995.
The Â£40m figure is inclusive of the whole stadium and not just the south stand proposal and covers an area with a 10 mile radius around the stadium.
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