THE Newport County AFC directors are seeking the help of Newport City Council to ensure that the club continues to play at Rodney Parade.

County say that the cost of staging matches at the city centre venue has increased by 100 per cent since the Welsh Rugby Union purchased the ground and took control of the Dragons last summer.

In response, Dragons chairman David Buttress insisted that County would not be able to get a better deal elsewhere.

The Exiles’ lease to play at the ground runs until 2023 and, while they have a “good relationship” with the WRU, the directors say they will have to look at a “plan B” unless match-staging costs can be reduced.

Trust chairman Shaun Johnson explained the situation at this week’s open supporters’ meeting.

“Since the WRU took over the stadium and the Dragons there’s been a different approach to stadium costs,” he said.

“We’re not apportioning blame on the WRU – the safety certificate and the liability sits with them.

“Last season we were under tremendous pressure from the Football League over the pitch and our Football League status was in some jeopardy so it was vital that the pitch got dealt with last summer.

“The WRU invested heavily in the drainage and the Desso pitch to the tune of £750,000 and we’ve made a contribution to that, which amounts to an extra £50,000 a year over the next five years.

“We’ve got a good relationship with the WRU and I think they’ve been pretty fair, it’s just the way that they are interpreting and what they feel the costs are to stage games here.

“We’re looking at that for next season going forward to try and drive that cost down.”

Fellow director Kevin Ward said: “Our cost base has increased since the WRU came in. I don’t particularly blame the WRU for that.

“We’ve got a licence to play here that was negotiated by the previous regime, which, if I’m honest, isn’t very good.

“The WRU are a very professional organisation and they’ve come in and highlighted areas where they can claim more money. If I was them I’d be doing exactly the same thing.”

But Ward added: “My view is that the preferential position for us would be to remain at this venue but if we were to carry on with our current situation and the current terms of the licence we play under actually that’s not viable.”

South Wales Argus:

Operational chairman Gavin Foxall has led talks with Newport City Council chief executive Will Godfrey on the issue and he’s optimistic that they can help.

“This isn’t a Newport County issue and it isn’t a Dragons issue, it’s a city issue,” said Foxall.

“Do the people of Newport want sport in the city centre? If they want that then we need a little bit of help to maintain that.”

Ward, who is also manager of Newport Now Business Improvement District and a director of Newport Live, believes that the council can play a big part in the future of Rodney Parade. “The city council’s masterplan for the city centre talks about Rodney Parade being the home of professional sport but there are a number of questions around that,” he said.

“The future of us being here and sharing the stadium and being part of professional sport in the city centre isn’t one that we can answer [alone] as a club. I think the whole of the city has got to be involved in it.

“That’s why we’re in the process of talking to lots of different stakeholders about how we go forward.

“We’ve had some very positive meetings with the city council and they have now agreed to facilitate a roundtable discussion with all the stakeholders so that we can thrash out around the table exactly what the future is for professional sport – rugby and football – in the city centre.

“We’ve got to persuade people that it’s really important that we stay here.”

Johnson admitted, however, that there is no guarantee that the club will be at Rodney Parade beyond 2023.

“We’ve got five years to go so the clock is ticking and we’ve got to start looking at plan B just in case the WRU scenario doesn’t work out,” he said.

“The preferred option would be for us to be an active stakeholder here – a lot more active than we are at the moment and with an agreement that’s far more equitable.

“Over the next four or five months we’ll probably find out if that preferred option is likely.”