20th Sep, 2018

OPEN LETTER: Observer's Save Our City campaign writes to council and Wasps in call to enter talks to end Sky Blues dispute

Correspondent 23rd Mar, 2017 Updated: 23rd Mar, 2017

THE COVENTRY Observer’s Save Our City campaign has today written an Open Letter to Coventry City Council and Ricoh Arena owners Wasps to call on them to join an MPs-sponsored mediation process aimed at ending the five-year Coventry City FC dispute.

It comes after fans’ group The Sky Blue Trust this afternoon joined our calls for all parties to come to the table to find a solution to the multi-party dispute which threatens our 134-year club’s future. We say the Sky Blue Trust too, as one party in the multi-party dispute, must continue too to talk to the mediator.

We also call on other media to join our calls for all parties to enter mediation.

We exclusively revealed on Sunday that early stage mediation talks were under way, initiated by MPs.

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. Several parties in the dispute have been approached and sounded out.

We have this afternoon written to rugby club Wasps and the Ricoh Arena, as well as Coventry City Council leader George Duggins, some of his fellow cabinet members, and Conservative opposition leader, councillor John Blundell. We have also approached MPs.

Here’s an extract of our open letter to them: “The Coventry City fans’ group The Sky Blue Trust has just issued a statement calling on Coventry City Council, Wasps and all parties to join mediation, with polemic which seemingly condemns your current stance at the council as well as (Sky Blues’ parent company) Sisu’s actions.

“So have countless frustrated people on social media condemned the council leader’s statement yesterday, and we have run a story today on their angry reaction.

“Our newspaper/website’s Save Our City campaign will continue to call for you – the council, Wasps and other parties – to enter this mediation process, and for you to make clear you are doing so.

“… To the council – we will put pressure on the MPs, ministers and football authorites to take a view of your non-compliance on this MPs-sponsored mediation process if your non-compliance continues. Would a judge take a dim view of your refusal to join mediation?

“We will continue to state the argument that mediation is used daily in all walks of life to try to reach an END POINT of legal action being dropped, before it reaches court. The tiresome back-to-front mantra of ‘drop legal action before talks’ is increasingly unsupported publicly.”

We have requested responses by tomorrow.

Council leader George Duggins yesterday released a statement to us, which it is understood was cleared by his colleagues on the ruling Labour cabinet.

It states: “Like all fans, the Council is keen to ensure a strong and successful football club in the city.

“However, the Council does not have any influence over where the Club plays or the location of its training academy/training facility. These are matters for the Football Club to raise with the relevant parties.

“In the event that mediation is successful and/or other plans come to fruition, the Council will consider any planning application and/or requests relating to the Council as landowner in respect of the football club in accordance with our statutory duties.”

* Council leaders and Wasps have previously stated they were not willing to talk over long-term stadium solutions for the Sky Blues under parent company Sisu, while there is ongoing legal action by Sisu against the council’s Ricoh Arena sale to the then London Wasps in 2014.

Public and political pressure is set to continue, including from within Coun Duggins’ own Labour party. Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham had been calling on ‘any and all parties’ including the council to take part in mediation, and he last year called on the sports minister to appoint a suitable mediator.

Coun Duggins’ statement falsely asserts the council – which is freehold owner of both the Ricoh Arena they sold to Wasps in 2014 and Coventry rugby club’s Butts Park Arena – has no influence over Coventry City’s stadium and academy matters.

Many Coventry City fans – while opinion is divided – have taken to internet forums to support our call on the council and Wasps to indicate they were willing to take part in mediation talks.

The Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign has called for pressure on ALL sides in the multi-party dispute to work towards a fair deal for Coventry City Football Club, on a stadium, revenues, and an academy.

As we revealed, the football club is already involved in the early stage mediation process. It is calling through the mediation process for “active not passive support” from the 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 as a potential preferred option… if peace can break out.

Wasps’ representatives have so far responded to us to say there are ‘not involved in mediation’ so far. They would not elaborate.

We say short-term and long-term solutions on a stadium and academy are needed for Coventry City Football Club. They will inevitably require council support if the club is to stay in Coventry – as it must. Those solutions could potentially involve Wasps and the Ricoh Arena, particularly in the short-term with the Sky Blues’ tenancy arrangements set to expire next year.

We also call on Coventry Sports Foundation, operators of the current academy building at the Alan Higgs Centre, to enter the talks, and other related parties. Coventry rugby club has said it is willing to enter mediation.

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