THERE are no suitable sites in Coventry for a new stadium for the Sky Blues, a leading councillor now claims.
Coventry City Council cabinet member for business, councillor Kevin Maton, was in December reported in the press to have suggested a site in Holbrooks was potentially suitable.
But he told a meeting of the Coventry City FC fans’ stadium forum the 33-hecatre Meggitt brownfield site in Holbrooks had not been “a proposal”, and would probably not get planning permission due to planning, highways and transport issues.
It comes as leaders of one fans’ group The Sky Blue Trust, who are hostile to the club’s owners Sisu, called on them to abandon any talk of building a new stadium close to, but outside, the city’s boundary.
The indebted club insists it needs commercial revenues from owning its own stadium and surrounding land, rather than being permanent tenants at the Ricoh Arena, now owned by London rugby club Wasps, and where the Sky Blues currently have a four-year tenancy arrangement.
Coun Maton, former planning committee chair, told Thursday’s meeting of the forum – established for fans to have an input in the new stadium – that he personally believed no suitable site was currently available, although land availability could change.
He has been among leading Labour councillors pushing for a release of Greenbelt around the city to help massively increase the city’s housing stock by up to 36,000 new homes over 20 years. Other land has been earmarked in the city’s development plan for employment uses.
Critics including Greenbelt campaigners say the city’s ambition to greatly increase the city’s population beyond 400,000 to become a “top ten city” is based on unrealistic assessments of economic and population growth.
Coun Maton said all land potentially earmarked for housing was contained in a document called the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), available on the council’s website. The council is still at least a year away from finalising its housing targets after further public consultation, in conjunction with neighbouring authorities, to help meet national need.
The Coventry Observer has today asked the council to confirm there is no site available in the city for a football stadium, and to explain why.
Sky Blues’ chairman Tim Fisher faced widespread accusations that there had never been a genuine intention to build a new stadium, first mooted 18 months ago at the height of the club’s dispute over stadium rent, revenues and ownership with Coventry City Council and the Alan Edward Higgs charity, the then owners of the Ricoh management company Arena Coventry Limited.
Facing calls to explain what work had been carried out so far to identify a site, for which property firm CBRE had been hired, Mr Fisher named three sites which had been identified and over which discussions took place, before any prospect of a deal fell away.
In doing so, he countered claims from The Sky Blue Trust that its Freedom of Information Act requests to neighbouring councils had appeared to indicate no local authority had been approached.
Mr Fisher said the sites were:
* Brandon speedway stadium. It was reported a the time in mid-2013 that estate agents and several key sources had confirmed a heads of terms agreement had been struck for the 26-acre site. Mr Fisher told the meeting the club had met with Rugby Borough Council which felt it was not suitable for a stadium because of nearly road constraints, but could be used for an academy/training ground. Mr Fisher said ongoing legal issues with the landowners and HMRC, well reported at the time, had prevented a deal.
* Ansty. Mr Fisher said Rugby Borough Council had again been approached, but a “highways solution” had not been possible due to access issues with an adjoining site.
* Ryton, the former Peugeot site. Rugby council was approached. A spur off the A46 was discussed to alleviate highway issues, but Prologis successfully bid at £650,000 per acre. Mr Fisher said the market price for land ranges from £100,000 per acre for Greenbelt, to £400,000 for commercial use.
He said two sites were currently being considered which had to remain commercially confidential, although more could follow.
He told the meeting that if CCFC could complete a land deal within the next three months, it would look to build within nine to eighteen months, subject “to the usual planning and construction challenges”. He added the planning application could be “straightforward or painful.”
Mr Fisher added that, if necessary, there might be an opportunity to extend the club’s current rental agreement with ACL/Wasps beyond four years while the new stadium was being built.
He said it was “unlikely” the club and Wasps could come to any arrangement to jointly own the Ricoh, even though it appears Wasps’ business model for ACL is predicated on CCFC remaining as tenants for at least four years. Wasps had wanted 100 per cent ownership of the Ricoh firm, sold for a reported £5.5million by the council and charity, after a late bid by the club for the charity’s shares was rejected.
Mr Fisher said the club’s directors would not be prepared to expose the Sky Blues to a risk of another administration by taking on half of ACL’s £14million loan to Coventry City Council.
He described it as a “sub-investment grade loan – meaning the loan is financially speculative and having a high risk of default.”
Council sources have claimed that under the Wasps deal, agreed in private by councillors in October, the loan would have to be paid back over 20 years. Mr Fisher said that exposed ACL, which reported £400,000 losses in its newly published accounts, to a high risk of default on potential £2million a year loan repayments.
Mr Fisher re-iterated previous assertions that a modular new stadium – which could start at a 12,000-capacity but could be added to 18,000 and well beyond if demand required it – would be funded from shares and debt.
A £14million new stadium would create value for the club and vital revenues for the team, he added, with spending on players restricted by the Football League to 60 per cent of any club’s turnover under Financial Fair Play rules.
We asked the council to specify if there were any sites of 60 acres of more available within the Coventry boundary for a stadium, training facilities and commercial land.
A council spokesperson said: “Based on that parameter there are currently no sites fitting that description and size, but any proposal put forward by the football club for a ground within the city boundaries would be fully considered by the planning committee.”
Sky Blues chief executive Tim Fisher looks on from the stands. Photo by Jon Mullis (buyphotos247.com)