COVENTRY rugby club has confirmed it is willing to join in current mediation talks over the future of Coventry City Football Club – and that a groundshare at an expanded Butts Park Arena remains possible.
The Coventry Observer has also called on Ricoh owners Wasps and Coventry City Council to confirm in the public interest that they are willing to take part in the multi-party mediation talks.
Wasps’ representatives have only told us so far the former London rugby club is currently “not involved in any mediation”.
We exclusively revealed on Sunday that early stage mediation talks are taking place between parties, initiated by MPs, in the long-running dispute surrounding Coventry City, with the aim of keeping the Sky Blues in the city.
We revealed Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry, is involved in the talks, and is understood to be reporting to sports minister Tracey Crouch.
We also revealed the football club is calling through the mediation process for “active not passive support” from Coventry City Council for a long-term solution for their youth academy and a stadium – with a switch from the council-backed Wasps-owned Ricoh Arena to Cov rugby’s Butts Park Arena being the club’s preferred option.
Sky Blues chairman Tim Fisher, in addressing a meeting last night with fans’ group The Sky Blue Trust, said the rugby club was set to confirm in a statement that a Butts Park Arena groundshare was still possible.
A statement from Cov rugby’s Jon Sharp, revealed for the first time here, reads: “Following the reports of the mediation process, we at Coventry Rugby Club ( CRL ) are pleased to see some progress in attempt to bring closure to what has been a disruptive period for all parties in this city.
“If we at Coventry Rugby can play some part in resolving these issues we are willing to assist.
“We can confirm preliminary discussions have taken place with both “CCFC” and the EFL on the possibility of the football club playing at BPA as tenants of CRL (Coventry Rugby Limited).
“There are several issues that would have to be resolved but we do not rule out that a solution could be found that satisfies all parties.
“As mentioned above, we are very willing to be involved in the mediation, however with the proviso that nothing negatively impacts on Coventry Rugby Club and its future.”
An EFL statement provided to us today states: “The EFL is in regular dialogue with Coventry City regarding the club’s long-term stadium arrangements. The EFL Board has asked to be appraised of developments on a regular basis and will consider a full report on the current situation at its April meeting.”
Mr Sharp in January had told us Coventry rugby club was unwilling to further discuss a groundshare with the Sky Blues’ parent company Sisu because of “anti-Sisu sentiment in the city”. It came amid protests by some campaigning CCFC fans’ groups and media. However, a Butts groundshare in future, with or without Sisu, was not categorically ruled out in brief public statements by Mr Sharp, as we reported.
Moz Baker of The Sky Blue Trust told BBC Coventry and Warwickshire today ‘fans’ were concerned the Butts site was too small to match what ought to be the club’s ambitions.
But many Sky Blues fans including on internet forums again yesterday expressed support for further exploration of the Butts proposal as a potential return to a city centre home- and for an examination of any potential to raise crucial stadium revenues for the club deprived on any meaningful income at the Ricoh Arena, where a current three-year tenancy deal expires next year.
The football club has said both Cov rugby and the Sky Blues have been advised over two years by architects, traffic consultants and other professional consultants that a Butts stadium of between 12,000 and 25,000 was feasible – to be expanded potentially upwards if and when demand is needed. Traffic issues could be resolved if there was political will by use of public transport, park and rides, nearby car parks, and city centre walk-ups, it is claimed.
Planning permission would be sought from Coventry City Council, whose leader George Duggins has denied there would be any political interference in the ‘quasi-judicial’ decisions of councillors on the planning committee. A council email leaked to us last year proposed a block on the Sky Blues moving to the Butts.
The Butts Park Arena, currently a 3,000-seat stadium, already has outline planning permission from a previous application for a stadium of 12,000 capacity.
The Sky Blue Trust’s leaders themselves gave a cautious welcome to further exploration of the Butts groundshare proposal after this newspaper exclusively revealed the plan more than a year ago.
Even when Coventry City were in the Premiership at Highfield Road, average attendances were often around 15,000.
The Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign has called for pressure on ALL sides in a multi-party dispute to work towards a fair deal for Coventry City Football Club, on a stadium and an academy.
Coventry City Council leaders and Wasps have stated they are not willing to talk over long-term stadium solutions for the Sky Blues under Sisu, while there is ongoing legal action by Sisu against the council’s Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps in 2014.
Mediation is used every day in all walks of life to prevent outstanding legal matters from ending up in court.
More to come.