A NEW study into a potential home for Bury's phoenix club has identified the town's athletics ground as the leading contender.

Three options were considered for Bury AFC by professional consultants - Gigg Lane, Goshen Playing Fields and the athletics ground on Market Street.

An in-depth analysis for the bid concluded that the prospect of reopening Gigg Lane, the historic home of Bury FC, had 'merit'.

But an expansive redevelopment of the Market Street site, for an 8,000 capacity stadium with a 3G pitch, is the favoured option.

Currently the club shares the Neuven stadium home of Radcliffe Boro and plays in the North West Counties League Division One North, the 10th tier of English football.

However the club has ambitions to progress through the National League structure and one day return the professional game to the town, by joining the Football League.

Preston-based consultants Frank Whittle Partnership (FWP) undertook the stadium exercise on behalf of the club and Bury Council.

Part of the development brief also included space for separate changing facilities, for matchdays and users of the 3G pitch through the week, catering and hospitality areas, a club shop, offices, a museum and community projects base.

Extra conferencing space, and the possibility of installing a health, education or community location was also pencilled in, as was the prospects for a sports hall, pool and gym, to be run by the club and council.

On a wider level, the possibility of using the ground for music concerts was also factored in.

The accessibility of all three sites, via the public transport network, was another consideration.

Council officials, according to the consultants' report, are anxious to ensure any future project is commercially viable and can repay any external borrowing requirements.

Like the club, the authority is concerned with a stadium which can operate 'seven days a week', and would encourage the participation in health and sport across the borough.

The consultants' opinion was that while Goshen allowed for a 'new build' ground, the site scored poorly for accessibility and there was the potential for flooding on the playing fields.

The potential impact on wildlife and the area's ecology was another drawback with that scheme, which would also come with a £34.3m price tag.

The history connected with Gigg Lane and its location weighed in the ground's favour with FWP. In the end the estimated £18.3m cost of redeveloping is the cheapest of all three alternatives.

But the costs associated with reconfiguring some of the ageing facilities there for a seven-day-a-week operation was cited as one hurdle.

Meanwhile the athletics ground is said to have "good potential to provide all of the facilities required by the club and the council comfortably within the site in a variety of potential configurations". Land to the south of Wellington Road would also be incorporated into the masterplan.

The bill for the redevelopment would come to £29.?m - and while issues around stopping up a section of Wellington Road and the potential aboricultural impact were considered it was still thought to be the most promising of the three sites.

Once again flooding is believed to be a potential problem but the consultants believe an engineering solution could be found.

Last night a Bury AFC spokesman said: "It is important to note that the report was conducted independently, and objectively.

"We have had no influence over its content beyond the ability to challenge any factual inaccuracies.

"We know there will be plenty of challenges and questions raised about details within the report but do not believe there is anything which would materially change the conclusions.

"We also want to make clear we wanted the report to investigate the long-term, sustainable solution. It does not consider what would be required to simply occupy a stadium in the short-term."

Club officials say that to obtain government funding any new ground would have to demonstrate it could 'provide genuine sporting and leisure services to the wider community'.

The club spokesman added: "We believe that these proposals provide a long-term vision for sport in Bury, which is both sustainable and inclusive for the whole borough.

"They are bold, economically attractive, and they go well beyond our football club."

The proposals have been drawn up so either joint funding bids can be drawn up with Bury Council, to fund the redevelopment, or the club can go it alone with its own commercial venture.