8th Dec, 2016

Save Our City: Coventry City F.C renew calls over Wasps move into academy

Coventry Editorial 27th Jul, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY CITY Football Club have renewed their call on their academy home’s management to spell out in writing how it could continue if rugby club Wasps move in – while continuing to oppose the move.

Sky Blues managing director Chris Anderson wants Coventry Sports Foundation (CSF), operators of the purpose-built academy building at the Alan Higgs Centre, to state a retrospective proposal, if they have one, which could retain the elite-status academy if Wasps build a new training centre. There are also proposals for a new council-backed 50 metre swimming pool.

Wasps submitted a planning application on June 1 to Coventry City Council for their new training centre on the site which contained no proposals to retain CCFC’s academy.

Following a furore, Wasps told the media the Sky Blues academy could use their ‘kicking barn’, assuming they will receive planning permission.

The Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign has also called on CSF and Wasps to state in writing if they have a proposal for CCFC’s academy to be retained.

So far, they have declined.

Last week, we revealed council planning officer Kurt Russell’s emails to Wasps’ planning consultants – disclosed to us under a Freedom of Information request – showed he too has called on Wasps to state how the existing football facilities on site would be accommodated in their plans following objections from protesting CCFC fans and others.

Wasps have since stated in responses to Mr Russell that other ‘outdoor pitch space’ on grass or semi-artificial 3G areas may also be available at various times in addition to the kicking barn at various times.

The football club has issued a statement on its website saying: “Coventry City Youth Academy is one of the country’s best Category 2 academies with a long history of training some of Coventry’s most famous athletes.

“… The Alan Higgs Centre has been the home of CCFC’s Academy for over a decade. We have previously stated our opposition to plans by CSF to invite Wasps RFC to move their training base to the Alan Higgs Centre and thereby potentially displacing Coventry’s youngest and most promising footballers.

“The club were therefore pleased to hear that CSF and Wasps would be open to working with the football club on finding a solution to safeguard the future of the Academy and its Category II EPPP status.

“We are aware that Coventry Council planners have also noted the absence of any proposal for the football Academy in Wasps’ planning application and have since sought written proposals from Wasps for the football academy.

“To lay the groundwork for a fruitful dialogue amongst all parties, the club have therefore requested that CSF provide us with information about the availability of facilities once our lease expires at the site in 2017.

“While the requirements mandated by the Premier League auditing process go beyond what is detailed below, at a minimum, the Academy will need guaranteed, unrestricted access to facilities such as:

3 grass pitches on weekends and 2-2.5 grass pitches on weekdays

An outdoor 3G pitch 5 nights a week

An indoor pitch 5 nights a week

All current office and classroom space, along with dressing rooms, etc.

“To explain more fully the club’s usage needs (i.e., specific hours that would be required during different times of the day, week, year), we have also provided CSF with the Academy’s Higgs Centre usage schedule.

“Despite repeated requests for this information over a period of more than a month, CSF have yet to confirm that any of the facilities, or which parts of the facilities, would be available and on what basis.”

Paul Breed chief executive of CSF told us in a statement: “It is clear that finding a way forward for the football club and the academy will require a collaborative approach, which is why on several occasions we have directly offered to meet with the football club’s senior management.

“This isn’t a situation which will be successfully resolved by email as it not a question of merely ticking boxes, and the programming of facilities is quite an involved and fluid process.

“That is why we had been hoping to meet Chris before, unfortunately, he cancelled the meeting. The offer remains for Chris and his team to meet around the table at any time to see what we can do to move the situation forward constructively.”

The Observer’s ‘Save Our City’ campaign is calling on Coventry City Council and the city’s sporting institutions including CSF to do more to ensure the club retains a viable presence in Coventry, amid the club’s and fans’ concerns it is being squeezed out in favour of rugby and Wasps, following a long running dispute with the club’s owners Sisu.

In addition to their intention to move into the Sky Blues’ academy home, the then London Wasps obtained the Ricoh Arena in 2014 from the council and Higgs charity on a massively extended 250-year deal not offered to the 133-year-old football club for which the stadium was built.

It also follows revelations from a leaked council email in January which proposed blocking any prospect of the club moving to an expanded Butts Park Arena home of Coventry Rugby Football Club, a proposal which aimed to enable both traditional Coventry sporting clubs to access more vital revenues from commercial stadium activities.

Coventry City fans’ organisations – including the Supporters’ Consultative Group and Sky Blue Trust – are protesting against the potential loss of the youth academy to the city.