Quentin receives an invitation from Gator Corp to build a croquet venue - then demolish it
Quentin Shears is a senior partner at quantity surveyor Newt UK, based in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire - a county that is currently gearing up to host the 2012 Inter Home Counties Croquet Olympiad …
This is a dark day for sport, though it started auspiciously enough. For four years, the people of Hertfordshire have been eagerly preparing for these Games. How we celebrated on that crazy night back in 2005 when a combination of local celebrity backing, wildly ambitious costings and a jazzy PowerPoint presentation pushed us past the rival bid from the Kent Organising Committee of the Croquet Olympic Games (KOCCOG). As I said to Blockbusters presenter and Stortford resident Bob Holness at the post-vote party: “This is the biggest thing to happen to Hertfordshire since Stevenage got a Waitrose!”
Of course, it wasn’t just about the croquet. That would be ridiculous. Croquet takes its responsibilities to the wider community very seriously, and the intention was always that the sport would kick-start the regeneration of the urban wasteland that is Bishop’s Stortford’s east end. However, the one stumbling block in this plan has always been the “legacy use” of the main stadium. Even back in 2005, as Bob and I partied into the early hours, an uneasy question nagged away at me: “Does Bishop’s Stortford really need a 10,000-seat croquet arena?”
Things came to a head earlier this week. Newt was holding talks with one of the consortiums interested in taking over the stadium after the Games. I wasn’t entirely happy about this, largely because the consortium in question represented Buntingford Bowls Club. As I said to our American boss, John Gatz Jr: “What’s the point of building a sports arena in one part of the county just for it to be taken over by a different sport in a different part of the county?”
’If you look at it on paper, it makes sense to take a brand new stadium, destroy it, and build a new one in its place’
“Come on, Quent, it happens all the time! Hell, everyone knows the Boston Red Sox started out as a table tennis club in Wales. Besides, bowls is where the money is now - in 10 years’ time, 90% of the population will be over 70. The Qataris are pumping in billions, Murdoch’s buying up the rights - five years from now, Buntingford Bowls Club will be bigger than Man Utd.
“Quent, I need you batting, or should I say bowling, for us on this one.”
And so on Tuesday I found myself in a meeting with the board of Buntingford Bowls Club and several members of the Qatari royal family. Leading proceedings was Buntingford bowling legend, Ken Trundle: “Can I start by saying that what you’ve got here is a great stadium,” he began, “a really great icon for the town.”
“We certainly think so,” I replied, “which is why we at Newt are very keen to be involved in your plans for its post-Games future.”
“Ah yes, our plans. We want to demolish it.”
I reacted in the only way that seemed appropriate. I spat coffee through my nose. “What? Why? Why would you do that?”
“Well, it’s a lovely stadium, fantastic for croquet. But it doesn’t really work for bowls. The viewing lines are all wrong. With croquet, there’s action all over the pitch, but bowls is more, well, end-based.”
“Can’t you just build your own bowling stadium in Buntingford?
“Well, we did think about that, yes. But honestly, if you look at it on paper, it makes far more sense to take a brand new stadium miles from where we’re based, totally destroy it, and build a new one in its place.”
“And you can’t just modify the existing stadium?”
Ken chuckled. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But again, no.”
“But this is just completely humiliating! I mean, what would the Croquet Olympic Committee say?”
“Yes, I can see that might be an issue,” replied Ken. “But on the plus side, if we set a precedent for redeveloping multimillion-pound buildings after one month’s use, it can only be good news for people in your line of work, can’t it?”
He had a point.