THE Football League is supporting Coventry City Football Club’s battle to maintain its ‘lifeline’ Category 2 youth academy and is willing to take part in ‘multi-party talks’ amid rugby club Wasps’ plans to move in.
David Wetherall, the Football League’s youth development director, and former Leeds United and Bradford City footballer, told the Coventry Observer it is willing to take part in such multi-party discussions.
We also understand governing body Sport England is privately continuing to seek a resolution which accommodates all parties’ concerns should Wasps get planning permission to build a new training centre at the football club’s purpose-built youth academy home at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way, where CCFC’s lease expires next June.
While Sport England is officially avoiding any media comment, a source told us it was pro-actively continuing to seek a resolution, having previously written to council planners to express its concerns about the potential displacement of the football club’s academy facilities.
Sport England’s role is crucial as it is a statutory consultee in the planning process.
Coventry city councillors on the planning committee on August 4 responded to Sport England’s concerns by resolving they were ‘minded to approve’ Wasps’ planning application for a ‘£7million’ training centre – if a resolution can be found to Sport England’s concerns and the government does not wish to step in. Councillors had also voted that the entire matter must go back to planning committee for reconsideration if Sport England’s concerns are not resolved.
It comes as Warwick University confirmed it had been approached by the Sky Blues about potentially hosting academy facilities there in future.
But club sources told the Observer the focus continues to remain on staying at the Higgs site in order to maintain crucial Category 2 academy status and that there is currently no alternative to the Higgs centre. Any alternative locations would have to be explored if and when the Category 2 academy is ultimately forced out of its current home.
The club is also concerned that spreading facilities across sites would deprive it of its Category 2 status, for which it also receives £650,000 funding to coach city schoolchildren and develop stars of the future such as James Maddison and Callum Wilson.
CCFC on its website earlier this month called for multi-party talks with Wasps and Higgs centre operators Coventry Sports Foundation also involving Sport England and the footballing authorities over how a centre of excellence Category 2 status academy could continue at the Higgs site – if Wasps were to build their proposed indoor kicking barn and create new rugby pitches. The council is also backing plans for a 50 metre swimming pool on site.
Mr Wetherall at the Football League told us: “Our role is to help and advise the clubs.
“We are willing to sit down with, first of all, the clubs to help and advise them on facilities matters relating to maintaining Category 2 academy status.
“If it would be beneficial for us to sit down with other parties, I am more than willing to do that to help and advise on facilities.
“We’ve been dealing with the football club. I and my team are very willing to sit down and help them and provide them with any advice. That’s our role in helping the club to complete its audit and maintain the required operating standards.
“I haven’t seen detailed plans. I’ve spoken to the club about coming down and looking at the plans and changes to the facilities.
“We are willing to sit down with the clubs and if the club thinks it would be beneficial to try and clarify the requirements of Category 2 with others sitting around the table, I am quite prepared to have those discussions.”
As with Sport England, The Football Association (FA) also wrote to council planners ahead of the August 4 meeting to express its concerns about the displacement of the football club’s Category 2 academy, and the FA wants talks to take place.
Sport England can make recommendations to government, which may in any case step in over the row, and on grounds that the Higgs centre is in the green belt.
In that event, the government itself could ultimately take the decision on whether Wasps should get planning permission for their proposed development.