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Rescue plan put to Jets

CHESTER Jets, who are in danger of losing their identity after plans for a new home in Ellesmere Port were rejected this week, have received an offer of help from Chester City FC.

CHESTER Jets, who are in danger of losing their identity after plans for a new home in Ellesmere Port were rejected this week, have received an offer of help from Chester City FC.

Jets official Joe Lofthouse issued a stark warning that the club could be forced to move to Liverpool if it was to retain its status in the British League.

But after hearing of the Jets' predicament, the Blues' new owner Stephen Vaughan has invited officials of the basketball club to contact him to discuss a possible partnership to build an indoor area on the Deva Stadium site.

Vaughan hopes to persuade Chester City Council and the club's former owners and lease guarantors, Morrison Developments, to co-operate in providing a multi-use facility at the Bumpers Lane ground.

'We want an indoor venue for our school of excellence, but it makes sense to try to put a package together for the benefit of Chester City and Chester Jets, who need a new home,' he said.

'I would be happy to talk to their officials to see if we can do something.'

There is pressure from the British Basketball League for all the teams to play in 2,000-capacity arenas with television access and Lofthouse explained: 'We don't have that at the Northgate Arena and although we all want to stay in this area because it's our home, circumstances may dictate the club might have to consider a move in the future to survive at the top.'

A combination of planning delays, funding problems and, in Lofthouse's opinion, poor advice from both the Epicentre Partnership and the borough council, meant that the Ellesmere Port project has failed to get off the ground.

Early plans earmarked a £3.7m facility on Cromwell Road, which would include four courts, paid for by £3m of lottery cash and £700,000 of matched funding.

The project was then downgraded to a £3m three-court centre and some pressure was introduced to move to the old greyhound stadium.

The issue came to a head in July when Jets' application to Epicentre ­- the body formed to apply for projects to regenerate Ellesmere Port town centre ­- was turned down.

'The main reason given was that our proposals did not involve employment opportunities in the town,' added Lofthouse.

'We feel badly let down. Ellesmere Port would have had a facility to be proud of and employment had never been raised as a pre-requisite of the bid.'

He added: 'The council and Epicentre have failed the town and we have been badly advised by both parties. The club is now talking to private parties about funding, but this often creates problems for lottery bids.

We could still get a new arena in Ellesmere Port, but I'm not optimistic.'

Steve Cranmer, the Epicentre Partnership regeneration manager responded: 'We are very supportive of the scheme, but on the occasion that the Jets made their second bid, we had received £8m worth of bids for £1m of funding and had to give priority to projects that most closely met our strategic aims.'

The loss of the Jets, who have the best record in the league this season and regularly pack in capacity crowds of about 1,000 at the Arena, would be a huge blow to their expanding army of fans, who would welcome any ideas to keep the club in the area.

Lofthouse expressed an interest in the football club's suggestion and may seek talks with Vaughan after consulting with other Jets' officials.

* Jets, who snatched an 86-85 win at Edinburgh Rocks on Thursday last week, followed up with another fine performance to beat London Towers 101-89 at the Arena on Sunday.

* Jets have no game this weekend.

* Win tickets for Jets' National Cup semi-final ­- see next week's Chronicle.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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