28th Oct, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Wasps' council-backed plan to build 240 homes

Les Reid 21st Sep, 2016 Updated: 12 hours ago

RUGBY club Wasps are in secret talks to build 240 homes on lucrative green land they have ‘acquired’ near to their planned training facility at the Higgs centre home of the Sky Blues’ youth academy, we can exclusively reveal.

The revelations follow negotiations with Coventry City Council over changing the ‘Local Plan’ blueprint for future development with a view to obtaining planning permission for the entire 240 homes plan, at the part Green Belt site off London Road/Allard Way.

The council has already provided support for Wasps’ proposals in a written ‘Statement of Common Ground’ (SOCG).

Speculation on a Coventry City fans’ website in June about a rumoured sale of the site for a Wasps academy led some to claim it was further evidence of favourable council treatment since the Ricoh Arena sale to the former London Wasps two years ago.

With around £35million of Wasps debt residing in a retail bond scheme, the housing development could potentially provide Wasps with a long-term financial lifeline. It is unknown when discussions commenced over Wasps obtaining the land.

It is the type of non-sporting commercial development alongside owning a sporting facility that both Coventry City Football Club and Coventry Rugby Football Club have sought, to boost revenues for their playing teams and add value.

Plans advanced since last year for the two traditional city clubs to groundshare at Cov rugby’s expanded Butts Park Arena with potential commercial development nearby appear to remain one possibility.

We revealed a leaked council email proposed blocking any professional football at the Butts. And former Cov player and lawyer Chris Millerchip – who is linked with the council and Coventry sporting authorities though his financing of the ‘Coventry – A City of Rugby’ project – had been blocking a necessary transfer of the Butts head lease he owned. But a deal to transfer the head-lease to Cov rugby chairman Jon Sharp has finally been announced this week.

Full council planning permission has now been granted for Wasps to move into Sky Blues’ academy home at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way next to the proposed housing development site, after the government and statutory consultee Sport England decided not to intervene.

Wasps’ homes plan appears in council-published planning documents but it has not been made clear that Wasps are behind the plan under a separate new company, WPS Trading Limited.

It was registered with Companies House in February this year. Documents show its only directors and shareholders are Wasps’ chairman Derek Richardson and chief executive David Armstrong.

The company’s registered address was changed in July this year to the Ricoh Arena from the Cambridgeshire address of financial company VCapital Advisory Limited.

A letter to the council’s planning department from Oxalis Planning, dated July 7 this year, states: “We act on behalf of WPS Trading Ltd who have recently acquired land off London Road, Coventry.”

It calls for alterations to the council’s draft ‘Local Plan’- which will govern how land is allocated for housing and other development over the next 20 years – with part of the land being in green belt and containing a listed building, a former Severn Trent pumping station.

The letter adds:”The site capacity could therefore be increased to approximately 240 homes.”

It also states: “The proposed (housing) allocation is, as currently proposed, divided in to two halves with a strip of land in the centre.

“This currently sits within the Green Belt (2001 CDP) but is proposed through the new Local Plan to be re-designated as part of the local green space network”.

At least part of the land was or is owned by Severn Trent Water.

Severn Trent in 2004 sought planning permission to build homes at the former pumping station land.

The letter and Statement of Common Ground document – providing council support for Wasps proposals to “assist” a planning inspector examining the draft Local Plan – are published on the council’s Local Plan website pages, and can be viewed from the links below.

Wasps homes letter

Wasps homes plan – Statement of Common Ground with council

UPDATE: Land Registry documents show part of the Green Belt land was sold on April 12 this year by Severn Trent Water to WPS Trading Ltd for £900,000 plus VAT.

The rest of the land appears to be unregistered. It is unclear if it was or is Coventry City Council land.

More to come.