23rd May, 2019

UPDATED: Supreme Court rejects Coventry City owners' latest appeal bid against council's Ricoh sale to Wasps

Les Reid 16th Apr, 2019 Updated: 16th Apr, 2019

THE SUPREME Court has rejected Coventry City’s owners’ latest appeal attempts over the Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps in 2014.

Coventry City fans will hope it might clear the way for negotiations over the club staying at the Wasps owned Ricoh Arena next season.

The Supreme Court has refused to overturn last year’s High Court decision not to allow a full judicial review by the Sisu companies including Otium Entertainment and Sky Blue Sports & Leisure.

Ricoh owners Wasps and the stadium’s freeholder Coventry City Council have refused to negotiate arrangements for the Sky Blues to stay as tenants – unless Coventry City owners Sisu as a precondition to talks drops its court action against the council’s 2014 deal to sell the venue to then London Wasps.

Sisu said in a recent open letter that it would drop the legal action in return for better council support towards a new stadium in Coventry, and a negotiated “commercially acceptable” interim arrangement at the Ricoh Arena. The football club has repeatedly said the vast majority of commercial revenues needed to support the team go to Wasps, even on the Sky Blues’ own matchdays.

It is not yet known if Sisu intends to continue other legal avenues. We are seeking a Sisu response.

The Coventry Observer earlier this month exclusively revealed the club has been examining for a year the former Woodlands School site as one potential new stadium site, although talks between its agents and council officers have been slow.

Time is ticking before April 25 when an Extraordinary General Meeting of the English Football League will consider Coventry City’s expulsion from the league if it has nowhere to play its home games next season.

As we reported earlier today, groundshare options being considered include the Butts Park Arena and Birmingham City, as reported in The Times newspaper this morning.

The London-based hedge fund Sisu-related companies have claimed that the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s circa £19million stadium company sale unlawfully shortchanged the taxpayer under ‘state aid’ laws by around £28million, with an uncompetitive deal.

Sisu has suggested Wasps, already £55million in debt, should pay the shortfall to the council.

The claim was rejected by a judge last year.

The ‘state aid’ claim was made on the basis that the stadium company, Arena Coventry Limited (ACL), was sold to then London Wasps Holdings Limited on a massively extended lease from 41 to 250 years.

ACL on the new lease term had later been independently valued at £48million. The £19million deal included just £1million for the lease extension, £2.77million each for the council and Higgs’ charity’s shares in ACL, and paying off the council’s loan.

A separate judicial review into an earlier Coventry City Council £14.4million taxpayer bailout of the Ricoh Arena was heard in 2014 – after a judge had initially refused to allow the hearing to take place.

Sisu had been successful in overturning that judgment, only to lose the subsequent judicial review, an appeal, and further attempts at appeal.

UPDATE; COUNCIL RESPONSE..

“Supreme Court decision R (on the application of Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Ltd and others) (Appellants) v Coventry City Council and others (Respondents) before Lady Hale, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lady Arden

“Joint statement from Cllr George Duggins, Leader of Coventry City Council and Cllr Gary Ridley, Leader of the Opposition Conservative Group, Coventry City Council:

“We are delighted with today’s judgment from the highest court in the land which once again justifies why we have robustly defended all claims brought by Sisu-related companies over recent years.

“Sisu has continually sought to re-open decisions taken by the Council almost five years ago but we have always remained steadfast in our belief that those decisions were appropriate, lawful and in the best interests of Coventry tax payers.

“We hope that this will be the last stage of the litigation and that Sisu will accept this as the end of all legal action so that further unnecessary costs are avoided for all parties involved. The continuing litigation is achieving nothing apart from alienating them from the partners in the city who they should be working with to secure a successful and sustainable future for Coventry City Football Club here in this city.”

WASPS RESPONSE:

Nick Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Wasps Group, said: “We have noted the Supreme Court’s ruling and we sincerely hope that this marks a watershed in this long-running saga.

“We would urge the owners of Coventry City Football Club to take this opportunity and cease this legal action, allowing them finally to come to the table to discuss the club’s future at the Ricoh Arena – something all parties are keen to see happen.”

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