COVENTRY City are to keep their ‘lifeblood’ youth academy at the Alan Higgs Centre for at least another season – amid major problems with Wasps’ plans to move in, we can exclusively reveal.
The Observer has learned the Sky Blues and Higgs centre operators the Coventry Sports Foundation (CSF) are set to sign a deal imminently to extend the current contract – due to expire next week – until March next year.
Following a multi-party dispute, CSF chief executive Paul Breed had written to Coventry City last year to emphasise the Sky Blues had until the end of their contract, on June 30 this year, to depart the centre – which was purpose-built as the football club’s youth academy.
The club feared losing its prized category 2 status and £500,000-a-year funding from the football authorities, awarded due to the quality of the academy’s indoor and outdoor pitches and other facilities.
Later last year, it emerged sports charity CSF and its longstanding financial backers Coventry City Council had been in secret talks over rugby club Wasps building a £7million training centre on site.
Planning permission was granted in August last year with no commitment to retaining the Sky Blues there, although Wasps informally offered Sky Blues the use of its proposed ‘kicking barn’ at certain times.
In March this year, it emerged talks were taking place for Sky Blues’ academy to relocate to Finham Park School, with the possibility of Coventry City also retaining temporary use of indoor facilities at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way at certain times.
It has emerged Wasps’ new training centre is subject to ongoing delays.
They said earlier this year it was scheduled to be built some time next season. The initial expectation was that it would be ready this summer, ahead of the 2017/18 season.
Questions remain over whether the council will plough ahead with building a swimming pool at the Higgs centre – displacing CCFC academy’s indoor facilities – if Wasps’ training centre and kicking barn (on the site of an outdoor football pitch) are ultimately not built.
It is understood the new arrangement for next season between Coventry City’s academy and the Higgs centre enables both sides to continue to keep options open.
A tenancy agreement for Coventry City to play at the Ricoh Arena – sold by the council and a Higgs charity to Wasps in 2014 – also expires at the end of next season.