PRIVATE talks took place today between council officials and agents for Coventry City, according to the council leader who added talks had also previously taken place over a new stadium site.
Coun George Duggins’ remarks – made at a full council meeting this afternoon broadcast and still available on the council’s website – appeared to contradict his media statement last week, in which he poured scorn on the football club’s owners Sisu’s claims that they had sought to build a new stadium.
But hopes that today’s talks could be the first step in a breakthrough in the Ricoh Arena deadlock which threatens the 136-year-old club’s existence were juxtaposed with Coun Duggins steadfastly sticking to his insistence that Sisu were entirely to blame for the dispute, and must stop legal action against the council’s and Alan Edwards Higgs Charity’s 2014 Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps.
He said it was difficult to see a way forward without ceasing litigation as a “trade off” for a deal to continue playing at the Ricoh Arena as tenants after this season.
Optimists will note Coun Duggins’ full “leader’s statement” today (see link below) did not specifically repeat his long insistence that Sisu dropping litigation should be a pre-condition of talks to keep the club at the Ricoh.
It comes after he failed to show for crucial talks in Westminster last week attended by top brass from all other sides in the dispute including Wasps, the English Football League and the rugby authorities.
The club has said it could be forced to groundshare outside the city, and has to find somewhere to play its home fixtures next season before an EFL meeting on April 25, where City would face a vote on expulsion from the league.
Former London rugby club Wasps have repeatedly said they will shut the Ricoh doors on the football club after this season unless Sisu drops all legal action, in which Wasps are named as an interested party.
Sisu issued a statement last week saying it would drop legal action in return for a “commercially acceptable” medium-term Ricoh Arena arrangement, and support from Ricoh freehold owner Coventry City Council to build a new stadium.
Coun Duggins told today’s 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.
“Indeed, council officers have talked to Coventry City Football Club around issues that relate to a relocation from the Ricoh Arena in recent years, the details of which I will not go into today.
“I can confirm colleagues that only this afternoon officers are meeting with agents of the football club. So therefore we are fulfilling one of the issues that Sisu are so interested in, that they are being talked to.
“So colleagues let me say that this issue needs to be drawn to a close, we need to get to a position in which Coventry City do not move out of Coventry again. I cannot see an easy way of ensuring that does not happen other than the legals are traded off for a deal at the Ricoh.”
He added: “If legal action is their primary objective then it is my view that it is time for them to divest themselves of Coventry City Football Club and allow the football club to have its future in this City playing at the Ricoh so that everyone can enjoy the progress of Mark Robins’ impressive young team.”
Sisu’s Open Letter last week said ongoing legal action – its latest appeal is lodged with the Supreme Court – remained the club’s best hope of gaining important stadium revenues for which it has been deprived, unless a deal can finally be struck in the seven-year dispute.
It added suggestions the council had sought to hinder attempts to build a new stadium. We re-published evidence from a leaked council email in 2016 which proved the council had previously sought to block a CCFC groundshare with Coventry rugby club at a vastly expanded Butts Park Arena.
To listen to the full statement (approx 1hr 50 mins in), click here