23rd May, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Site eyed up for new Coventry City stadium is old Woodlands school

Les Reid 2nd Apr, 2019 Updated: 5th Apr, 2019

THE MYSTERY site being eyed up for a new stadium for Coventry City is the old Woodlands school location, we can reveal.

The Coventry Observer has learned the former Woodlands Academy, which closed three years ago, has been the subject of approaches and discussions  between the club’s property agents and Coventry City Council for some time.

The council is both the planning authority and the site’s owner.

The site was provisionally considered for a potential stadium and “enabling development” such as housing or retail – but talks have been slow to progress.

It has also been provisionally earmarked for educational facilities.

The club had previously also been interested in the site for its academy, which has now extended lease arrangements at the Higgs centre in Alard Way.

Last week, amid the intensifying Ricoh Arena dispute which threatens to see the Sky Blues evicted by landlords Wasps from next month, the club’s owners Sisu alleged in a statement that the council had been “dragging its feet” for a year, holding up progress on an unnamed council-owned site.

Council leader George Duggins had told a full council meeting the previous week that the club’s agents had been in discussions over a new stadium on previous occasions, and had met that day.

We can now reveal the site is the one off Broad Lane in the city, left vacant when the former Woodlands Academy merged with nearby Tile Hill Wood school in 2016.

It follows Coventry City’s owners previous interest in a groundshare with Coventry rugby club at an expanded Butts Park Arena, where there was once talk of a stadium of anywhere between 12,000 or over 20,000 seats – depending on promotions for Coventry City, and a leaked council email revealed attempts to block it in 2016.

That was until Cov rugby club chairman Jon Sharp announced later in 2016 that the rugby club had gone cold on any such proposal, and would not deal with the football club’s owners Sisu amid the acrimony of the dispute.

Many commentators considered there to be potentially major issues to overcome with the Butts Park Arena site, including with transport and access – although the football club’s advisors maintained it was feasible, provided there was council goodwill.

Similar public and council concerns would be bound to emerge regarding any proposal for Woodlands.

There have been flooding and highways issues nearby. The area has also seen housing development at nearby Bannerbrook Park on Banner Lane. More housing is earmarked for Eastern Green. Tile Hill station is nearby.

Coventry council leader George Duggins is supporting Wasps’ position in refusing to negotiate extending  the 136-year-old football club’s Ricoh Arena tenancy arrangements for next season unless Sisu drops its ongoing court action against the council’s deal to sell the stadium to then London Wasps in 2014, on a 250-year lease not offered to the football club.

Coun Duggins failed to show up for all-party talks theee weeks ago in Westminster staged by culture and sports secretary Jeremy Wright MP, attended by leading figures from all other parties, the rugby and football authorities, and Wesr Midlands mayor Andy Street.

Sisu said last month in an open letter it would drop the court action in return for “commercially acceptable” interim arrangements at the Ricoh in the medium term, and council help to facilitate a new stadium for the long term, saying it is badly deprived of Ricoh revenues to support the team – even on the football club’s own matchdays.

Sisu’s statement last week included the following claims about a new stadium and discussions with council officers:

“Since the court-ordered mediation process in March 2018, SISU has attempted to work with the Council to develop a specific site for a new stadium. SISU retained specialist consultants in order to prepare and develop a proposal to acquire the land needed for the new stadium.

It is misleading for the Council to say that SISU has not been proactive. SISU has provided to the Council four separate masterplans for the site. Yet, it has taken our advisors almost 6 months to get a meeting in order to discuss such a development. The Council’s response times even to simple questions can be as long as six weeks, despite regular chasing.

The Council is the owner of the site in question. Councillor Duggins skates around this point referring only to the Council’s position as planning authority. SISU is trying to engage with it as the owner of the target site. The Council, however, has dragged its feet for a year now and little progress has been made. If the landowner of the site – a site that would appear to offer many opportunities for re-development – is not interested in engaging commercially with SISU, then there is little that SISU by itself can do.

The Council is incorrect in asserting they have never blocked plans at Butts Park Arena. SISU’s efforts to work with Coventry Rugby were stymied by the Council who had also attempted to insert a clause in the lease agreement to “specifically exclude professional association football or training associated therewith”.

Coun Duggins had previously claimed at the full council meeting: “It would help all parties if Sisu and Coventry City Football Club were to present the Council with written plans on their new stadium and what they would be seeking in terms of planning and enablement of the development.

“I have made it clear repeatedly that any pre-planning application and planning application including highways environmental assessments and neighbour considerations would be dealt with in the same way as any other applicant. For there to be any suggestion that any applicant would not be treated even handedly is totally and utterly erroneous.”

We await comment from all sides.

UPDATE: Coventry City Council claims it has been waiting for a “site specific process ” survey from the football club’s agents as part of the planning process. It would identify which others sites have been examined and ruled out, given that the site is not identified in the council’s overriding Local Plan for a stadium. Sisu emphasises the football club’s agents have been left frustrated when seeking meetings to progress matters.

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