The Keepmoat Stadium, which opened in 2006 and has served Doncaster Rovers since January 2007, was one of the key additions to the extensive landscaping and building development at Lakeside.
The £1.4 billion regeneration plan between 2000 and 2007 – which formed part of an ambitious council initiative to rejuvenate large parts of Doncaster – has been credited with creating thousands of jobs, improving transport services, and acting as a key driver of ongoing housing projects.
Attracting millions of visitors each year, Doncaster Rovers' new home and its surroundings have helped the South Yorkshire minster town battle against historic high unemployment, transforming another area with an industrial legacy into something beneficial for the local community in the modern age. Of course, it has also improved the quality of facilities for the football club and other sports teams in the area.
But just how good has the scheme been – stadium and all – for Doncaster? Here, we take a look at the positive and negative effects the plan has had on the community, and what lies ahead for the town and its football team.
Doncaster Rovers' Keepmoat Stadium is iconic of the council's dedication to improving the look, feel and economy of the town. While the team has peaked in performance after a meteoric rise through the tables, the town itself continues to continually improve with new, similarly-ambitious regeneration projects.
- Regeneration: The completion of the Lakeside development; a springboard for further improvements to the town centre.
- Employment: A strong recovery after closure of pits and other primary industry; growth supported by excellent transport infrastructure.
- House prices: Doncaster's housing market shows steady growth and resilience to recession; DN4 postcode shows particular strength after regeneration.
- Football team: Stadium and regeneration immediately helped Championship ambitions; now in League One, but focusing on rising again. Initiatives in place to improve atmosphere "lost" in move.
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THE GRAND VISION
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After the turn of the millennium, Doncaster Council was clear in its prime objective: take the town into the new century with extensive regeneration plans throughout the borough. While many developments were already in motion before the idea of a new stadium was even put forward, the Keepmoat Stadium was always a major part of the council's plan; in fact, it was the cornerstone of a widely-publicised initiative to improve the town on a community level.
As the old saying goes, first impressions count – which is why the Frenchgate Transport Interchange, that now combines Doncaster's train and bus stations with the 14th-largest town-based shopping centre in the UK, was the primary focus of Doncaster's post-2000 plans.
Upon its completion on June 6th, 2006 – just months before the Keepmoat Stadium's unveiling– Frenchgate became one of the first developments in the country to combine a purpose-built public transport hub and shopping centre under the same roof. It boasted 860,000 sq ft of space through 129 units and 900 new parking spaces for shoppers, as well as a dedicated 500-space car park for commuters.
Of course, it was the 30-stand bus and coach station that proved to be a real asset. Given Lakeside was just a couple of miles down the road, the improved services between the town centre and Belle Vue (and, later, the Keepmoat Stadium) offered both home and away fans – and those looking for a day out at the rapidly-expanding multi-purpose development – better links to the rapidly-developing facilities to the south-east of Doncaster.
The rise of Lakeside
Doncaster's Lakeside was already a particularly beautiful spot before the stadium was even proposed. Built in the 1990s, the leisure and business park (which sits just under two miles south-east of Doncaster town centre) sits around a manmade lake, which replaced a landfill site as well as former airfield space.
The 20-hectare centrepiece was completed in 2002, offering a vast space for events, as well as a sanctuary for local flora and fauna. It brought together existing developments including the well-liked Dome Leisure Centre (which opened in 1989) – which the council claimed to be the "catalyst for the regeneration of the Lakeside area" – and the rapidly-expanding Lakeside Village shopping centre.
In the six years it took to fully develop Lakeside (not including the stadium and its associated amenities), £22 million was invested, creating over 10,000 jobs through the 100 businesses that opened on the site in its formative years. However, even in 2003, the site still had plenty of space for further developments – and the last piece of the jigsaw was ready to be placed by the council.
The final piece of the puzzle
Doncaster Rovers were rebuilding. The fourth-tier staple had fallen into the realms of non-league after finishing rock-bottom of Division Three in the 1997-98 season. But, five years after they first had to entertain the likes of Kettering Town, Northwich Victoria and the now-defunct Hereford United in the traditionally semi-pro league, the Vikings reinvaded Division Three after being promoted in the playoffs in a 3-2 thriller against Dagenham & Redbridge. Paul Tierney became a club legend overnight after he scored the golden goal on 110 minutes to send Rovers back into professional territory.
With positivity amongst fans and locals clearly behind the club – and crowds now averaging over 3,500 at the "Old" Belle Vue – a familiar question came to the forefront of the town's mind: was the stadium really fit for purpose, and could it truly support an ambitious team on the up?
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MAKING THE MOVE
The remnants of Doncaster Rovers' former home, Belle Vue, will soon disappear entirely. All that's left are the concrete foundations of its stands – now covered in weeds – as well as the faint outline of the pitch, which is nearly unrecognisable in its overgrown state. Many visitors to the Lakeside area who weren't familiar with Rovers' old stadium may miss it entirely, even though it's hiding in plain sight, just a few hundred metres from the Keepmoat Stadium.
A chequered past
"Belle Vue endured a torrid history," says Jack Peat, a regular writer for Doncaster Rovers fanzine PopularSTAND, and a lifelong fan of the club. "In its later days, our former chairman Ken Richardson was jailed for burning down the Main Stand for insurance purposes.
"As a source of revenue, it was apparent that it had become surplus to requirement. Corporate hospitality was shifted to a row of portable cabins and attendances rarely exceeded between 3,000 and 4,000. For a club that was on the up, changes had to be made."
Viking Supporters Cooperative chairman Andy Liney reflected this still-held view back in 2005, just as Doncaster were coming off the back of cup wins over Manchester City and Aston Villa. He told the Guardian: "Belle Vue [was] an embarrassment of a ground in commercial terms.
"Lakeside offers us marketing and sponsorship opportunities we just [didn't have]. John [Ryan, then-chairman] can't keep putting £1 million into the club every year of his life, but if we keep getting results to put us on the map, the stadium will be full and start to take the burden off him."
A triumphant farewell
The then-unnamed replacement arena was completed in 2006 and, prior to its opening, was renamed the Keepmoat Stadium after the partnership was announced by Jeremy Milnes, commercial director of the Stadium Management Company, on November 21st. Just over one month later, Doncaster closed its doors on Belle Vue with a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest – Theo Streete getting the "bizarre" winning strike, and his only goal during his loan spell at the club.
Why the big move?
Despite Belle Vue's contentious history in its closing years, many may expect that questions were raised about the need for a new stadium. However, it became quite clear after an initial consultation with the public about a fresh start that it wasn't so much about getting a new stadium – it was about increasing its capacity.
THE NEW STADIUM
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A very public consultation
By mid-2004, the Lakeside Sports Complex, as the proposal had then become known – a development that was entering its final stages after extensive landscaping and house-building – needed a core focus to draw the people of Doncaster.
Led by town mayor Martin Winter, a consultation with the public was announced to put forward a proposition for a 10,000-seater stadium to support the newly-promoted Rovers squad's ambitions to go even further up the tables – as well as the further interests of Doncaster Belles LFC and the Doncaster Dragons rugby league team (the latter would even rename themselves "Doncaster Lakers" to reflect their new home).
The plans were initially put forward by Doncaster Council nine months earlier in late 2003, though timing was much better the following year; after back-to-back promotions for Rovers, locals reflected the positive attitude the team had showed on the pitch in their support for the proposed £20 million stadium's creation. "The response so far is overwhelming and I am thrilled that the people of Doncaster have answered my call to give their opinion on the Lakeside Sport Complex," Winter told the BBC.
Nearby land sales had already been tabled to support the growth – sales that would later draw companies to add to the Lakeside development in the form of offices and shops that now exist today.
A (three-plus) grand outcome
The desire of locals was clear, after 99% of the 3,222 people who had contacted the mayor agreed to greater aspirations for the rapidly-expanding development in the DN4 postcode: boosting stadium capacity from 10,000 to 15,000, incorporating conference facilities, and creating an all-new athletics track. All of these facilities would eventually be signed off in the final plans.
The will of the public was clear, and quite unique in the climate of modern football stadium planning. The council, not a private investor, was putting millions of pounds into the regeneration of the town, and taxpayers were asking it to spend even more for assets that were clearly dearly held by them: sport, fitness, retail and transport.
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Keepmoat Stadium: planning application
- August 2004
- Final plans submitted:
- October 2005
- December 17th, 2006
- First game:
- January 1st, 2007
- Keepmoat Stadium, Stadium Way, Doncaster, DN4 5JW
- Cost of development:
- £32 million
- Built by:
- Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council
Assets within stadium:
- Conference and banqueting facilities
- Multi-functional spaces
- Fitness Village gym
- 500-seat restaurant
Assets built alongside stadium:
- "Mini stadium" with six-lane running track and 500-seater stand for use by smaller local sports teams
- Two external full-size floodlit grass pitches
- Eight floodlit all-weather five-a-side pitches
- Car parks for 1,000 cars
- Outdoor amphitheatre for concerts and plays
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From completion to competition
Excitement for the move
While many expected the move from Belle Vue to be a sad and difficult thing to face, by the time the Keepmoat Stadium was ready to go, fans, locals and even former players were behind the move. It was part of a growing trend; the first time a team had relocated to a new stadium happened since the end of the Second World War was in 1988, when Scunthorpe relocated to Glanford Park. By the time Doncaster moved just 18 years later, Rovers were the 25th club to up sticks.
Despite its history – both good and bad – and the fact it was one of the very few grounds in England that allowed fans to stand on touchline terraces during a match, a 2006 Christmas Eve report from the BBC made it clear that "it was time to move on and focus on the future" – and there would be "no looking back".
Dave Richards, the Rovers kit man, said of the team's former digs: "She's had her time and she's dilapidated now but she'll never be forgotten and it'll still be the Belle Vue stadium." An unnamed stalwart Rovers fan, clearly reminiscing about uncovered terracing, continued: "I've spent 40 years down here in all weathers, out in all weathers, looking at the weather and I can't wait to be sat down in a bit of comfort."
Concerns over finances
In April 2008, details emerged over the financial arrangements made in both the creation and day-to-day running of the stadium. The Guardian reported the widely-known fact that the Keepmoat Stadium was built with £30 million in taxpayers' money, with a further £2 million grant from the Football Foundation. Naturally, as with countless other publicly-funded projects up and down the country, this led to an outcry from many that it was "not a legitimate use of public money".
Rovers' desire to climb the table wouldn't be shackled by financial issues, either; alongside the fact the club didn't contribute to the stadium's construction costs, they were offered a £250,000-a-year rent agreement, as well as 10.4% of ticket revenues above attendances of 8,000 – something that was, in balance, well ahead of the average that Belle Vue had offered.
Mayor Winter, who led the original successful consultation, further defended the Keepmoat Stadium, claiming that it was a "transformational project" which would "promote regeneration and soon move into profit". Chairman John Ryan backed him up, adding: "If we get promoted, the whole town will get a massive lift."
Atkins' word of warning
Despite a lack of contrition over leaving Belle Vue among key decision-makers in Doncaster, there was nonetheless concern raised for the future of Rovers by former player Ian Atkins, who finished his career at the old ground – and had plenty of trips there with other teams, too.
"This season it could be a hindrance," he told the BBC. "With no disrespect, everybody hates going to Doncaster. In my day the car park had potholes and everything, and then there's the rickety old dressing room you can't throw a cat in. The intimidation that causes people is frightening.
"Now it's a different era in a fantastic new stadium and everyone will enjoy going to Doncaster - I'd rather be going to a new stadium than playing at the Belle Vue in winter! And the psychology changes as well. The supporters will expect them to win every week because it's a new stadium, but football doesn't work like that."
Luckily, Doncaster Rovers were ready to face up to the challenge – a point they made crystal clear in their first game at Keepmoat Stadium.
Picking up where Rovers left off
On January 1st 2007, nine days after the team's last match at Belle Vue, Doncaster Rovers played their first game at the Keepmoat in a fierce Yorkshire derby against Huddersfield Town. Picking up from where they left off at Belle Vue, the hosts ran out 3-0 winners to secure a happy new year for home fans; Mark McCammon converted the first goal at the new stadium, though the bad-tempered match also brought a bit of controversy to proceedings – no fewer than three sendings-off, including one late dismissal for Rovers.
The team's fortunes would continue on the up, in line with their hard work over the previous four seasons.
Doncaster has been on the up since the mid-90s in terms of visible development and regeneration, though for the likes of Keepmoat Stadium to have a true economic impact on the town, two key metrics must be taken into account: employment rates and house prices.
As a northern town shedding an industrial legacy, many may expect Doncaster to struggle regardless of domestic and international financial crises – however, the picture appears to be a lot less bleak than even locals anticipated, and the stadium was a major player in regeneration.
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Modern-day Doncaster continued to bear the brunt of a former coal-mining heritage well into the early 1990s, almost a decade after the widespread closures of the mines. With this primary industry went a number of associated trades, particularly those that relied on the coal for heat-based production, such as glassware.
However, the availability of workforce, combined with excellent transport links provided by the M1 and A1 alongside a core stop on the East Coast Main Line – a by-product of Doncaster's former industrial ties – brought a lot of interest to the area. The town's many famous MPs may have also had a hand in the town's regeneration, too, as well as Doncaster's own council.
Employment in Doncaster
People in full or part-time employment in Doncaster, 1995-2014
- DON #:
- People employed in Doncaster
- DON %:
- Percentage of town in employment
- Y-H %:
- Percentage of Yorkshire & Humber region in employment
- UK %:
- Percentage of UK in employment
|Year||DON #||DON %||Y - H %||UK %|
- Data from the Office for National Statistics/Nomis.
- Data prior to 2004 is limited, so percentage of employed is not available during this period.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Keepmoat Stadium.
Emerging from the pits (1990-2000)
Despite suffering two significant drops in employment levels in the mid-to-late 1990s, Doncaster has been surprisingly resilient as a town – strength that came as much from the town as private investment.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2008, Steven Shaw, the chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, said: "Twenty to 25 years ago, there was almost like a social mourning going on. You'd lost a huge chunk of the rail industry, virtually all the mining and virtually all the steel." By 1997 – as the town was at the pit of another drop in employment – a strategy emerged for the development of Lakeside, which included extremely early drafts of the new stadium.
The timing was perfect; more primary industry was closing around this time, and the effects of this were further-reaching than many expected. The same report underlined how Doncaster's traditional working conditions had a massive impact on employability in general. A lot of long-term worklessness could be attributed to 20,000 people being out of work by 2007, claiming incapacity benefit because of physical injuries sustained from mining (though estimates put 7,000 as stress-related).
In a study conducted by Sinead D'Silva and Paul Norman, published by the White Rose University Consortium, it was underlined that it is more difficult for miners than most other workers to get employment elsewhere, and that "the [health/stress] effect of coalmining on the population is long-term". A departure from mining, then, could have been a blessing rather than a curse – though needed time to be proved.
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Private business takes flight
Luckily, other businesses were taking the place of the region's dwindling traditional industries in the 1990s and 2000s. These predominantly took the form of logistics depots for rapidly-expanding businesses such as Amazon.com, Tesco, IKEA and Next, which all benefited from the boom in ecommerce – as well as excellent transport links.
Additional transport links were created, too, bringing yet more jobs to the area. RAF Finningley was decommissioned in 1995 and, in April 2005, saw its first commercial flight leave for Palma under the name Robin Hood Airport Doncaster-Sheffield. Operating (largely seasonal) low-cost flights strictly to European destinations, the airport has generated yet more travel to South Yorkshire – even if it was to travel elsewhere soon afterwards.
Counselling by the council (1997-2007)
Doncaster Council did not rely solely on the private sector – plenty of public funding was coming, too. The Lakeside regeneration plan, among other town initiatives, cost £1.4 billion, and much of it could be credited to local MPs who were then in the big time with the Labour government.
Doncaster Central's MP Rosie Winterton later became minister of state for pensions reform; Ed Miliband was soon to become (and still remains) MP for Doncaster North; Don Valley MP Caroline Flint would step up as minister of state for Europe, as well as minister for Yorkshire & Humber.
Government money came from the New Deal for Communities for job training and health initiatives totalling £32 million. The investment was perfect to support the 22,000 jobs created by the billion-pound scheme to regenerate Doncaster and, of course, Lakeside; the retail park was remodelled in 2003 to drive even more attention to the out-of-town shopping district.
The Keepmoat Stadium was the final part of this plan. By 2007, this final major council-led development for DN4 would help usher in bigger crowds to support the service industry-led retail park, restaurants and leisure centres. These crowds only grew as the team succeeded, and more businesses were drawn to the area.
Downturn, upturn (2007-present)
However, a few months after the stadium opened its doors, Doncaster was on the cusp of experiencing a downturn of all-new proportions: the global recession of 2007-08. Despite there being 10,000 jobs directly generated for the region through high-quality retail units, office space and facilities management, the region suffered as much as any other large town in the UK; ironically, around 10,000 jobs were lost elsewhere by the time employment figures bottomed out.
The Chamber's Steven Shaw, at the time, said the New Deal-style job investments were "holding up OK". "The jobs that they've created are real jobs and they're still there," he continued. "It's a much nicer place to be than 20 years ago." However, Colin Wright, a property expert who had to lay off 20 people at the time, said: "[T]he new big projects won't start for a long time. I think it'll get a lot worse before it gets better."
There was an element of truth to his words; the true lull in employment rates happened in 2011, though the town once again bounced back – and the likes of Lakeside and the Civic and Cultural Quarter continued to grow again.
SCROLL TRIGGER FOUR FIVE
Concerns for Doncaster's employment future
As with many public sector-dominant towns, Doncaster is not escaping cuts brought in during the coalition's term in office – and more could hit the town in the wake of Conservative plans to further slim down local councils.
In 2014, Doncaster Council announced that 1,200 people would be made redundant, council tax would increase, libraries would become community managed (the worst-affected place in the UK for such facilities), and £2.1 million earmarked for leisure facilities was to be totally scrapped.
In 2015, Cooplands' Doncaster operations were hit by administration, forcing the closure of 39 shops across Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as the bakery and head office in Doncaster itself – over 300 jobs were lost.
The last vestiges of coal mining also left the town. Only nearby Kellingley Colliery, the last deep coal mine in the UK – where many of the town's remaining coal workers migrated to after closures in the 1990s, especially after Hatfield's closure in June 2015 (at a loss of 400 jobs) – is left, and is set to close before 2016. Between Kellingley and the recently-closed Thoresby in Nottingham, 1,300 jobs are on the line – and more are expected to go at UK Coal's Doncaster headquarters.
Healthcare jobs are also under fire. The NHS faces cuts across the board, including dozens at a primary care support centre at White Rose House, which has been handed over to Capita - one of 29 NHS centres nationally. Similarly, 32 jobs are up in the air in and around Doncaster as private firm Sodexo looks to slim down South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company, which helps young offenders back into society.
Ed's return to local politics
However, it's not all doom and gloom for Doncaster – far from it. In his first interview since stepping down from Labour Party leadership, Ed Miliband told the Free Press that his top priority was bringing jobs back – citing Hatfield's closure as a key flashpoint.
Calling on the team that helped Doncaster a decade earlier, he continued: "The priority is fighting for decent-paying jobs for the area. While there are low-paid jobs out there in Doncaster, it's about quality too, so I've been working very closely with Ros Jones, Rosie Winterton and Caroline Flint to try and bring a better standard of jobs to Doncaster."
Alongside wider initiatives in the town centre (see VI: The Future), the likes of B&M has announced 70 jobs at a new store, while out-of-town developments also boast huge potential – including a potential 3,500 jobs at a new employment park as part of a £200 million, 200-acre scheme to the south of Harworth and Bircotes.
Despite all but shedding its coal-mining heritage, Doncaster may well continue on the up. from Lakeside and the Keepmoat Stadium to the town centre's regeneration, and future plans in between and out of town, the all-time high of employment registered in 2014 may only climb further, and push through the 140,000 mark for the first time ever.
Keepmoat's own growth
Doncaster's very own Keepmoat Ltd now employs no fewer than 3,200 people across the UK. Even in the face of a market that continues to feel the effects of the economic downturn of 2008, the company continues to grow (5% in financial year 2013-14) and further support Doncaster's steady recovery, notably due to the fact that Keepmoat's focus is on public-sector clients in regenerative schemes, meaning there is little history of bad debts.
The fact that Keepmoat's headquarters lie on the Lakeside development itself – as well as its obvious sponsorship of the nearby stadium – only further highlights the company's pride in its work in the field of urban redevelopment. However, the company is by no means a home bird; capitalising on government schemes to improve social and affordable housing, Keepmoat continues to expand into Scotland and southern England.
Despite all but shedding its coal-mining heritage, Doncaster may well continue on the up. From Lakeside and the Keepmoat Stadium to the town centre's regeneration, and future plans in between the areas and out of town, the all-time high of employment registered in 2014 may only climb further, and push through the 140,000 mark for the first time ever.
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Housing and house prices
Despite its incredible regeneration over the last ten years, cynicism over Doncaster's wider status as a town has continued to have an impact on the desirability of housing. A July 2014 report released by Daily Mail financial news service This is Money described Doncaster as "the town the property market forgot", claiming that house prices were lower than ten years previously.
Yet was the report a little over-sensationalist, or is there a cross to bear for Doncaster despite its dedication to revitalising its housing and economy?
House sales and prices in Doncaster, 1995-2015 (provided by Home.co.uk)
|Year||DN4 average||Doncaster average||England average|
- Data from Home.co.uk.
- "DN4" is the postcode that the entire Lakeside development sits in, alongside Warmsworth, Hexthorpe, Bessacarr, Cantley Estate, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and parts of the town centre.
- All data reflects sold house prices, not listed house prices.
- All types of housing are factored into the average; Home.co.uk measures detached, semi-detached and terraced housing, as well as flats.
- * denotes incomplete data. 2015 data was sourced in July, so only accounts for properties sold to May 2015.
- Blue cells mark the opening of the Keepmoat Stadium.
House prices in Doncaster
Immediately, one thing seems clear: while not without its problems over the last 20 years, the Doncaster housing market statistics provided by Home.co.uk immediately rebuff This is Money's claim that house prices were the same in 2014 as they were in 2004:
- For the DN4 postcode, the difference in average sold house prices between 2004 and 2014 was £16,663 (114% growth).
- For Doncaster as a whole, the difference was £26,005 (123%).
- The average growth in house prices in England during this time was £84,495 (147%).
However, it's important to stress two factors:
- DN4's growth between 2003 and 2004, when compared to Doncaster as a whole, does somewhat skew the percentage growth.
- English house prices are also hugely skewed by London's growth in prices. In fact, a separate report from This is Money in November 2014 claimed that if it was not for London, English house prices as a whole would not have grown in the previous ten years, effectively undermining its claim against Doncaster even more.
Much like the rest of the country, the cost of housing in Doncaster and the DN4 postcode effectively doubled in the space of nine years. While England went around £20,000 higher than twice the 1995 rate of £69,063, Doncaster and the future postcode of Lakeside beat the odds of many of its northern counterparts to register incredible growth.
It appears, however, that the development of Lakeside (and the then-promise of a new stadium) may have had an immediate impact on the value of DN4's housing – temporarily, at the very least. With both DN4 and Doncaster at the £89,000 mark for an average residence in 2003, DN4 shot up to £123,000 the following year – nearly £10,000 more than the town as a whole rose. This astronomic jump of £33,901 even beat the English average rise of £22,553 over the same 12 months – as did Doncaster, which saw an average climb of £24,120.
Late 2000s – a positive price plateau
Doncaster as a whole was quick to catch up to DN4's sharp rise – in fact, DN4 slipped back by over £5,000 between 2004 and 2005, while Doncaster overtook it. Both then plateaued in 2007, just as the Keepmoat Stadium was completed and the credit crunch took hold, but the two areas proved as resilient – if not more so – than England as a whole.
Continued development of Lakeside clearly had an effect on DN4 as a whole, as it remained steadily between £134,000 and £139,000; Doncaster as a town was only able to overtake it (just) in 2014, after consistent margins of £5,000 or more for four straight years.
Considering DN4 and Doncaster were price-matched until 2004, two things seems certain from the data: that the Lakeside as a whole had a fantastic effect on house prices in the area, and that DN4 was able to hold its value much better than Doncaster after the economic crisis – just after the brand-new Keepmoat Stadium was opened.
Excellent future housing projections
Aside from the plans either recently completed, or in place, for the Lakeside development (see VI: The Future), the data shows that, before the summer – a prime period for house moves – sales are looking very positive for Doncaster.
Although the summer rush will be counteracted by a slowdown in the winter months:
- DN4 is currently over £6,000 ahead of its 2014 full-year average;
- Doncaster is £2,500 ahead, and;
- The London-powered England projections are less than £1,500 above the previous year.
SCROLL TRIGGER FOUR FOUR!
From humble beginnings in the early 1990s, Doncaster Rovers fans have seen some of the most exciting football of any team in the last 20 years. The Vikings' four promotions and three relegations provide more movement than most teams in the Football League and beyond – and many were in incredible circumstances. But how did the Keepmoat Stadium's introduction affect their success?
Team performance of Doncaster Rovers, 1992-2015
- Season played
- Average attendance
- POS (LG)
- Club position in English league structure
- POS (#)
- Club numerical position in English league structure (Premier League champion = 1)
|Year||Att||Pos (lg)||Pos (#)|
|1992-93||2,411||16th, Division Three||86|
|1993-94||2,478||15th, Division Three||85|
|1994-95||2,585||9th, Division Three||79|
|1995-96||2,090||13th, Division Three||81|
|1996-97||2,091||19th, Division Three||87|
|1997-98||1,715||24th, Division Three||92|
|2003-04||6,939||1st, Division Three||69|
|-- League structure renamed --|
|2004-05||6,886||10th, League One||54|
|2005-06||6,139||8th, League One||52|
|2006-07||7,746||11th, League One||55|
|2007-08||7,978||3rd, League One||47|
|2012-13||7,239||1st, League One||45|
|2014-15||6,807||13th, League One||57|
SCROLL TRIGGER FIVE TWO!
The fall and rise of the Vikings
Doncaster Rovers had experienced a rollercoaster ride since the advent of the Premier League. However, the former fourth-tier staple turned around their fortunes, though not before they dropped out of the Football League entirely to spend five seasons in the Football Conference. Crowds had fallen under 2,000, though the lack of support was perhaps understandable given that Rovers finished 15 points clear at the bottom of the table, with a -83 goal difference – 55 worse than Brighton & Hove Albion.
In the team's first year in the fifth tier, the Westferry Consortium took over the club and, with some renovations to Belle Vue, helped re-establish the club as a contender; they appointed local entrepreneur John Ryan – a cosmetic surgery mogul – to head up their operations (figuratively, not literally).
Ryan, himself a huge fan of the club since he was a boy, wanted to re-establish the club as a second-tier outfit, while also doing more than just improving Belle Vue. He set out to secure a brand-new stadium and the rest, they say, is history – his wishes came true within the decade he set as a target for its completion.
As the council tabled their stadium plans, Ryan had become such a talismanic figure for success at the club that on April 26th, 2003, he played the final minute in Rovers' last game of the season 4-2 victory away at Hereford. With it, he claimed a Guinness World Record as the oldest player to play for a professional British football club, at the age of 52 years and 11 months.
Promotion on promotion
Two weeks after Ryan's run-out in Herefordshire, Rovers took on Dagenham & Redbridge in the Football Conference Playoff Final at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke and got the all-important golden goal that helped them back into the league.
Back in Division Three for the 2003-04 season, in its final year before the rebrand to League Two, Doncaster Rovers emerged as early hopefuls for greatness in the first month, winning their first three. By the end of the season, Rovers had lost just eight games – only two at home – and claimed the league title with 92 points. Four points behind them were Hull City, who had just taken up residency at the all-new KC Stadium. Hull would go on to engineer a rise of their own, all the way to the Premier League.
By this point, the reality of the Keepmoat Stadium was all but finally agreed. The general public had consented to making it even bigger and better than originally planned, and building began. By the 2006-07 season, Rovers had two mid-table performances in League One. Manager Dave Penney, who left the club at the start of the season by his own accord, was replaced by Sean O'Driscoll, and a new era began for the club.
New stadium, new cup success
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While the move into the new stadium was immediately positive with a 3-0 win over Huddersfield Town, Rovers settled for another consistent season in League One, finishing 11th. However, success was immediate away from the league; Doncaster had already reached the quarter-finals of the Football League Trophy by the time they'd moved into their new digs. A January home victory over Darlington was followed by a phenomenal 3-2 comeback victory over Crewe Alexandra in front of 12,000 fans at the Keepmoat.
The final may have brought back memories for many. Tied at 2-2, Doncaster and Bristol Rovers played through into extra time. In the 110th minute – the same minute Tierney's golden goal in the Conference Playoff Final restarted the team's ascension in 2003 – Graeme Lee scored the winner for the Vikings, giving the club their first silverware since moving to the Keepmoat.
The O'Driscoll era – the Championship and back
In the first full year after the Keepmoat Stadium was built, and O'Driscoll's first full season as manager, Doncaster secured their third promotion in six seasons after another playoff final, this time against Yorkshire rivals Leeds United. However, if it hadn't have been for a last-day defeat away at Cheltenham Town, Rovers would have been promoted automatically. Southend were dispatched 5-1 in the second leg of the semi-final, before James Hayter scored the sole goal at Wembley to send Rovers up.
The squad spent four seasons in the second tier before finishing rock bottom in 2011-12, 12 points from safety and with the poorest goal difference in the division. O'Driscoll was sacked after seven winless games; high-profile signings, including El Hadji Diouf and Habib Beye, failed to prevent the drop.
Win some, lose some
Success was still on the cards for Rovers, and an incredible League One season in 2012-13 saw them promoted as champions once again under caretaker-turned-manager Brian Flynn – and in nail-biting circumstances. Playing fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford at Griffin Park, stalwart midfielder James Coppinger scored in the dying seconds of extra time on a counter-attack, just after a Brentford penalty was held out by the Rovers crossbar.
Had Brentford succeeded, they would have been automatically promoted and Doncaster would once again go through the playoffs. However, Doncaster ended up leapfrogging Bournemouth – becoming champions by a single point. Success wasn't to last. The following year (with Brian Flynn replaced by Paul Dickov as manager), Rovers were relegated on goal difference. Another mid-table season in League One followed; while the Keepmoat Stadium didn't bring consistency, it certainly brought excitement, as well as more fans on a consistent basis – even if much of this was to do with on-field success.
Statistical breakdown (1992/93 – 2014/15)
- Best season:
- 12th (32nd), Championship (tier 2), 2009-10
- Worst season:
- 16th (108th), Conference (tier 5), 1998-99
- Promotion to relegation ratio:
- Best pre-stadium attendance:
- 6,939, 2003-04
- Worst pre-stadium attendance:
- 1,715, 1997-98
- Best post-stadium attendance:
- 11,964, 2008-09
- Worst post-stadium attendance:
- 7,239, 2012-13
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Future stadium plans
As far as the stadium's purpose is concerned, things will, in all likelihood, stay as they are. Despite the Keepmoat being owned by the council on a 99-year lease – an arrangement that is often seen by fans to protect its primary use as a sporting facility – the stadium and its surroundings were further safeguarded with Asset of Community Value (ACV) designation.
The application for the ACV was submitted by the Viking Supporters Co-operative (VSC), which stated that it would "help ensure that the stadium area remains available for fans of all the Doncastrian sporting clubs who use the facilities", and give "supporters and the wider Doncaster community a say in what happens should the council agree to sell it".
Inside the stadium
Efforts are being made to improve the corporate experience offered to visitors. After the end of the 2014-15 season, Rovers confirmed that its Premier Club suite would be re-branded as the 'Legends Club', saluting long-serving players. Andrew Whitham, head of commercial at DRFC, says that the club wants to "give something back to the corporate supporters that have given us so much over the years" – and VIPs to the club will be able to take advantage of an expanded range of benefits, including fine dining and pre-match entertainment.
No plans for expansion
As for any stadium expansion plans, it looks like the Keepmoat will remain as it is. A failed takeover bid by Belize-based hedge fund Sequentia Capital had a vision to expand stadium capacity to 20,000 and lead the club into the Premier League as part of a five-year plan, but board-level disagreements resulted in the deal falling through – and former chairman John Ryan resigned, claiming he was "very disappointed the Sequentia deal didn't go through", as it was "a tremendous opportunity" for Rovers' future.
Future of Lakeside
With Doncaster Rovers now well and truly settled into their new home at the Keepmoat Stadium, and with regular attendances still holding solidly at the 7,000 or more since that first promotion year in 2003-04 – and more than treble during particularly successful seasons – the increase in footfall has spurred businesses to expand or open up more units at Lakeside to take advantage of even busier crowds on Saturdays between August and May.
Retail, leisure and sport
The first major asset, Vue Cinema, expanded to 11 screens in 2014, bringing with it Doncaster's first Nando's and a Pizza Express. Subway is scheduled to open ahead of September 2015; the three restaurants together immediately provide over 75 new jobs for the town. Pizza Hut had also settled into Lakeside Village soon before this. As for new developments, much of the focus has shifted to the town centre – not least because of a shortage of space at Lakeside, and open units available.
The future of Lakeside's leisure and sporting prowess actually hangs as much on the lake itself as the Keepmoat Stadium. In 2015, the International Jetsport Grand Prix returned to the town. In 2014, 76 riders travelled from Europe and the United Arab Emirates to compete; Business Doncaster estimated local economy takings to be around £750,000 – so with over 120 riders taking part, it is expected that an even more positive outcome is in store this year for Lakeside.
For those not so heavily invested in petrol-powered speed machines, dragon boating has also become a fixture on the lake, alongside the popular rented boats available in the brighter months. Hundreds of rowers take part in Doncaster's annual Dragon Boat Challenge, raising money for charity and again drawing the crowds.
As for more family-friendly pastimes, Lakeside Village Shopping Outlet launched the Lakeside Lawn and Crown Bowling Green in 2015, combining summertime picnic space alongside giant Connect 4, Kerplunk, and bowls.
The Government's ambitious plans to develop the HS2 high-speed rail line from 2017 has required planning for two training colleges, which will be ready to train future workers in time for phase one of the multi-billion-pound development. Prime Minister David Cameron has predicted the HS2 project could create up to 2,000 apprenticeships, with half of these presumably targeting Doncaster and South Yorkshire; naturally, thousands of engineers will be trained on top of this entry-level opportunity for young employees-to-be from the region.
The other training college is scheduled to be built in Birmingham, which will be connected to London by phase one of the HS2. Despite phase two bypassing Doncaster by some 12 or 13 miles (instead coming closer to nearby Barnsley in its mission to connect Leeds and Sheffield), Doncaster Council highlighted that the college "will be built on a 'ready to go' 5.1-acre site" that is "within walking distance of household names in the rail industry like DB Schenker, Volker Rail and Hitachi". Network Rail also has offices at Lakeside's Carolina Court.
David Wilson Homes' Serenity @ Lakeside housing complex, close to the Dome, is currently being developed; many homes are occupied already, and final construction is scheduled for completion during 2017. Apartments were open for viewing by mid-to-late 2012, and the scheme has continued to grow by the month.
Meanwhile, the Residence is also currently being created by Muse Developments, and the company opened its show homes to the public during the first full weekend of June 2015. It will feature 51 "luxury two, three and four-bedroom homes", "carefully considered … to appeal to a range of buyers".
Announced in late 2014 by senior development surveyor James Scott, the plan was good business sense to Muse; Scott said how "the Lakeside regeneration area has already proved popular with local people", and would be a major focus of their efforts for years to come.
However, with additional housing projects comes public backlash, not least because the Lakeside has steadily become a favourite among families. Muse Developments, which is currently completing The Residence, is preparing a planning application – though has been met with resistance from a local group of parents.
Local residents were told of the plans ahead of a public consultation. Mother of two Lucy Roberts told the Star: "It's the only area left around the lake that has not already been built on or is not overtaken by businesses. Events take place there too, but there'll be no space for them either. The events will have to be moved elsewhere or just stop all together."
However, Muse responded to the criticisms by highlighting extensive conversations with locals, adding: "This development will provide much-needed high-quality and contemporary new family housing in an excellent location well served by local amenities and transport links."
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Future of the team
While many concerns have been raised over Doncaster Rovers' performance in the 2015-16 season, the club at least has a consistent manager. Ahead of the new campaign, Paul Dickov is League One's seventh longest-serving person in the role, and sits in the top 25 for the 92 teams in England's professional leagues.
Kyle Bennett moved to Portsmouth shortly after the season finished. The winger netted eight goals in 2014-15 and had plenty of assists to his name, but Dickov was unable to prevent the out-of-contract 24-year-old from staying. Undeterred, the manager pushed ahead to make five signings before the end of July.
Ahead of the season, things are already looking positive – a recent 2-0 friendly win over Premier League Sunderland at the Keepmoat was a notable highlight. "Confidence is massive, but we can't get too carried away either," Dickov said. "It's great for confidence and great for me to see things that we're doing on the training ground coming out onto the pitch, but at the end of the day, it's a friendly."
Doncaster's new ups and downs
The Keepmoat Stadium's familiar surroundings will host the club's first game against recently-promoted Bury. Naturally, many fans may see the game as an easy start to the season, but if history is to be remembered, Rovers' fans should know that it's often the newest entrants that are the biggest upstarts (regardless of the direction from which they enter a new league).
BBC Radio Sheffield's Andy Giddings emphasised that Rovers' second game – a first-round League Cup clash with Leeds United, the team they beat in 2008 for promotion to the second tier – could give the Vikings the best start to the year. "After relegation to the third tier in 2014 and two failed takeovers, Doncaster have lost their stride a little," he said. "Victory over Leeds would represent a major fillip as they try to get back into the Championship."
Relegated Wigan Athletic and another promoted squad, Southend United, round out the first three games of the regular season, and four of the first six matches of the year are at home. However, this isn't necessarily seen as an advantage by fans at the moment. In fact, major efforts are being made to overcome the fact Rovers only managed 28 of their 61 end-of-season points at home.
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Future for the fans
Since the move, fans have held major concerns about the atmosphere at the ground – something Jack Peat attributes to "classic problems associated with new stadiums". The fanzine he writes for – PopularSTAND – directly references the Anfield Kop-like feeling the Belle Vue provided, and only underlines fan desire to revisit the old ambience in their new, nicer surroundings.
"The dull atmosphere in the stadium has been blamed for us having one of the worst home records in the league last year," he said. "Indeed, our home form has been pretty lacklustre ever since we moved. It desperately needs an injection of atmosphere."
Concerns that the much-loved ambience at Belle Vue is not matched by the Keepmoat Stadium has led fans to organise the Black Bank – "an ideal" comprising "core supporters" in a vocal initiative that "will lead the way […] in generating an incredible atmosphere the Keepmoat has never seen before".
The idea has gained so much traction that during the summer of 2015, Doncaster Rovers tweeted a photo of a banner being fitted to the back of its South Stand, which was made unreserved for the 2015-16 season – meaning fans can sit (or stand, when things pick up a little bit) wherever they like. Hopefully, Peat adds, "this will do the job – but a few new places to congregate pre/post match also wouldn't go amiss".
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Future of Doncaster
Doncaster's ambitious development plans continue to go from strength to strength, following the success of Lakeside – indeed, more of the same is on the way, but closer to the centre of the town.
Civic and Cultural Quarter
A lot of recent focus has recently been placed on the "Civic and Cultural Quarter"; the first phase of this was completed in 2013, and included the creation of Cast, "a state-of-the-art" performance venue developed in conjunction with Doncaster College, and funded in part by Arts Council England.
The quarter's centrepiece is Sir Nigel Gresley Square – "Doncaster's first public square and additional public realm", celebrating Doncaster's most famous son: the engineer who designed the Mallard and Flying Scotsman. New civic offices for the council also sit in the centre of the quarter.
The area continues to be developed; ground was broken in summer 2015 for a new cinema (with 100 jobs available) and restaurants, and these are scheduled to open in spring 2016. Further housing is also scheduled for building behind the civic office. Though not officially set in stone, Doncaster Council also has plans for a new library, a "quality" hotel and a swimming pool and leisure facility.
Instead of building yet more water attractions such as Lakeside, there are also proposals to regenerate existing waterways in Doncaster, not least the Waterfront, which offers 46 hectares of potential redevelopment along the River Don. Up to date, £23 million has been spent filling in waterlogged areas and creating a 90-berth marina.
However, funding has become restricted after Yorkshire Forward pulled funding due to the government's wholesale closure of Regional Development Agencies in 2012. The council continues to look for European funding for improved transport infrastructure in order to open up the site to developers, though otherwise, this is very much on hold.
Plans were put forward in April 2015 to inject £21 million to expand and improve upon Doncaster train station. Hinging on successful planning permission is granted, Network Rail proposed the addition of a bay platform and bridge to boost passenger. The new so-called platform zero was slated for use by trains terminating at, and starting from, Doncaster.
Mayor Ros Jones told the DFP: "It's great to see this new investment being made in our railway station to help make services more reliable for passengers. With improvements to the railway station, the growing success of Doncaster-based railway companies and by delivering the new National College for High Speed Rail, we are continuing to boost Doncaster's status as an important railway centre."
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Doncaster may not sound like one of the most attractive places to an outsider with little knowledge of the town's regeneration since the mid-1990s, but a visit to South Yorkshire would immediately prove many of these people wrong in their assumptions – it's a place that's on the up, and for a wide range of reasons.
While many will undoubtedly attribute Doncaster's continued successful regeneration to the ambition showed in developments such as Lakeside and the Civic and Cultural Quarter, Doncaster's perfect placement on the backbone of England – surrounded by transport links both old and new – has continued to draw interest from employers, even as traditional industries close down.
However, it's certainly not right to shift away the town's economic recovery from Lakeside and the Keepmoat Stadium. These assets have not only transformed a huge, disused brownfield site just south-east of the city centre, but they've also directly influenced house prices and, more importantly, employment.
And while Rovers' return to the Football League (and more) was orchestrated before the move to the new stadium, the rehoming's effects were quick and meaningful to the town. While the Vikings still reside in League One, the team and its fans continue to look up, not down, when considering the future.
Temporary drawbacks of the new stadium, such as a poorer in-game atmosphere and restricted VIP experiences, are being worked on by fans and the club itself. All the while the stadium, its nearby assets and the surrounding open spaces play a huge role in quality of life for Doncaster's residents, from sports teams and major events to the day-to-day leisure time of locals and visitors alike – and the future continues to look brighter by the day, as the town sheds the final hallmarks of its industrial past.
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NB: Sources documented only by chapter first used
Section one – The grand vision
Section two – Making the move
- Ex-owner of Doncaster Rovers jailed for arson plot (March 6th, 1999 – The Independent)
- Keepmoat give their name to Doncaster (November 21st, 2006 – Yorkshire Post)
- Doncaster 1-0 Nottm Forest (December 23rd, 2006 – BBC Sport)
- The fall and rise of Doncaster Rovers (November 30th, 2005 – The Guardian)
Section three – The new stadium
- Public have say on stadium plans (August 14th, 2004 – BBC News)
- Public backing for stadium plans (August 17th, 2004 – BBC News)
- Ryan true to his word over the rise of Rovers (April 30th, 2008 – The Guardian)
- Crowds flock to stadium opening (December 17th, 2006 – BBC News)
- Doncaster 3-0 Huddersfield (January 1st, 2007 – BBC Sport)
- VIDEO: Doncaster vs Huddersfield highlights and feature (January 1st, 2007 – Sky Sports via YouTube)
Section four – Community effects
- Office for National Statistics/Nomis employment data
- Boom turns to bust in Britain's jobs blackspot (October 18th, 2008 – The Guardian)
- Impacts of mine closure in Doncaster: an index of social stress (post-2013 – Sinead D'Silva and Paul Norman, White Rose University Consortium)
- 1,200 Doncaster Council jobs to go, care homes and day centres to close and council tax to rise under £109m cuts (January 16th, 2014 – DFP)
- DCMS presents the best picture, Doncaster the worst (January 19th, 2014 – Public Libraries News)
- Pits to shut and jobs to go after fall in global coal price partly caused by boom in US shale gas (April 2nd, 2014 – The Independent)
- 300 jobs axed as Cooplands bakery closes in Doncaster (February 5th, 2015 – Yorkshire Post)
- Threat to jobs as NHS support centre named on leaked hitlist (July 28th, 2015 – DFP)
- Dozens of jobs to go at South Yorkshire offender rehabilitation service (July 28th, 2015 – DFP)
- Keepmoat: Financial information (retrieved August 2nd, 2015)
- Ed Miliband: "My Doncaster priorities are jobs and education" (July 26th, 2015 – DFP)
- 70 jobs to be created at new B&M store in Doncaster (July 21st, 2015 – DFP)
- 3,500 jobs plan at new employment park near Doncaster (July 16th, 2015 – Thorne Gazette)
- Home.co.uk housing data
- The town the property market forgot (July 29th, 2014 – This is Money)
- The lost decade: House prices stuck at the same level as 2004 once inflated London property market is removed (November 3rd, 2014 – This is Money)
Section five – Team performance
Section six – The future
Future of the stadium
- Fans group make move to protect Keepmoat Stadium (July 25th, 2014 – DFP)
- Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium suite set for revamp (May 27th, 2015 – DFP)
- John Ryan: Doncaster Rovers exit saddens former chairman (November 10th, 2013 – BBC Sport)
Future of Lakeside
- Nandos and Pizza Express to open in Doncaster as cinema leisure park expanded (March 25th, 2014 – DFP)
- International Jetsport Grand Prix 2015 (2015 – Business Doncaster)
- Doncaster Dragon Boat fun goes swimmingly for good cause (July 13th, 2015 – DFP)
- Keep on the grass at Doncaster Lakeside (May 29th, 2015 – DFP)
- National College for High Speed Rail (July 2015 – Doncaster Council)
- Birmingham and Doncaster chosen for high-speed rail college (September 30th, 2014 – BBC)
- HS2: Route plans (GOV.uk)
- HS2: Birmingham to Leeds line - phase two (Wikimedia Commons)
- David Wilson Homes: Serenity @ Lakeside
- Muse Developments: The Residence, Lakeside
- New Lakeside homes for Doncaster (September 3rd, 2014 – Business Doncaster)
- Doncaster parents blast plans to build on Lakeside 'beach' (June 23rd, 2015 – The Star)
Future of DRFC
- Doncaster Transfer News (May-July, 2015 – Sky Sports)
- BBC Sport - Football - Doncaster Rovers (May-July, 2015 – BBC Sport)
- Doncaster Rovers: No one is getting carried away - Dickov (July 30th, 2015 – DFP)
- League Cup first round ties that catch the eye (June 16th, 2015 – BBC Sport)
- League One 2014-15 final table (Soccerbase)
Future for the fans
Future for Doncaster
All information contained within this article is accurate as of August 2015.