6th Dec, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: New threat to block Coventry City Butts Park Arena groundshare with Cov rugby

Les Reid 15th Jun, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A Coventry City Football Club move into an expanded Butts Park Arena home of Coventry rugby club appears to have hit the buffers after objections from the Butts’ head lease holder, we can exclusively reveal.

The Coventry Observer exclusively revealed in November the groundshare proposal, and that it would first need Coventry Rugby Football Club chairman Jon Sharp to acquire the head lease to the site where Coventry City Council is the freeholder.

The head lease is held by former Coventry rugby player Chris Millerchip, who lives in New York.

Negotiations have taken place for months between Mr Millerchip and Mr Sharp, who insists acquiring the lease is essential if there is to be an expansion of up to 25,000 capacity and the groundshare.

We revealed last month a Coventry City Council email in January, following our exclusive about the groundshare, proposed to block the transfer of the lease unless it included a covenant clause preventing any professional football or associated training activities for the full term of the 125-year lease at the Butts, where Cov rugby club currently holds the sub-lease.

Earlier today, a Coventry Observer investigation highlighted how Mr Millerchip is a funder of the ‘Coventry, a City of Rugby’ scheme, backed by the council and sports authorities.

The Coventry Observer has learned from sources that Mr Millerchip has informed Coventry rugby club and other parties he is not currently prepared to transfer the lease with the Sky Blues’ involvement.

It is understood he is also calling for ‘peace talks’ between Coventry City Football Club, rugby club Wasps and the Coventry Sports Foundation, which operates the Alan Higgs Centre, where Wasps are set to move in and dispace the Sky Blues crucial youth academy next June.

The Butts groundshare proposal aims to see both the city’s struggling historic sporting clubs accessing more crucial commercial revenues from matchday and non-matchday commercial activities – in the hope of investing in their teams and a push towards League promotions.

Unelected council officer Nigel Clews has since claimed the leaked email was simply a ‘fishing expedition’ to try and flush out the Butts groundshare plan, as it had been revealed by the Coventry Observer last November.

It is not clear what legal power, if any, Coventry council as freeholder would actually have to prevent Mr Sharp obtaining the head lease.

After the leak created a furore, the new council leader George Duggins told us in an interview last month the council would not insist on such conditions, but would await any planning application for the Butts.

Mr Sharp stated publicly last December that the transfer of the head lease was necessary for him to press on with his redevelopment plans.

The redevelopment is in turn necessary to enable the Cov rugby/Sky Blues groundshare proposal.

While a Sky Blues move to the Butts Park Arena remains a proposal, the football club believes it needs revenue from a stadium’s 24/7 commercial activities to survive, while Mr Sharp believes a groundshare would help fulfill his ambitions for more commercial activity for the rugby club as a priority.

Premiership rugby club Wasps obtain revenues from the Ricoh Arena where Coventry City Football Club is a mere tenant.

Previous Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) owners the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity in 2014 sold the Ricoh’s operating company ACL to Wasps on a massively extended 250-year lease not offered to the Sky Blues.

Council leaders have sought to protect the Ricoh project as what they claim is a regenerative scheme for the disadvantaged north of Coventry, although the project always partly depended on the football club’s money.

More to come.