6th Dec, 2016

SAVE OUR CITY: Higgs centre willing to join multi-party talks on Coventry City academy

Les Reid 5th Sep, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

THE OPERATOR of the Alan Higgs Centre home of Coventry City’s ‘lifeblood’ youth academy has followed the footballing authorities in saying it is willing to take part in multi-party talks called for by the club over Wasps’ plans to move in.

The Coventry Sports Foundation told us it is willing to attend such talks, subject to diary availability, and did not wish to comment further.

The club has suggested some time in the week commencing September 19, adding the week had been ‘tentatively set aside’ by the national football and sports authorities.

Coventry City Council told us it is supportive of such talks taking place, as part of the planning process.

Councillors on its planning committee last month voted they were ‘minded to approve’ Wasps’ planning application for a training centre at the purpose-built football academy site, if the government did not wish to intervene, and pending a resolution of Sport England’s concerns about the impact on the football academy.

The government last week, in a letter published on the council’s website, clarified it will not be intervening by ‘calling in’ the application, and will allow the council to make the final decision over whether to grant planning permission.

It came as the club’s website published a letter to council planning officer Kurt Russell requesting council support for the proposed multi-party talks aimed at resolving the concerns.

The club’s letter also raises questions as to why previously publicly mooted plans for a 50metre swimming pool at the Higgs site in addition to the Wasps plan, formally backed by the council’s ruling cabinet last week, were omitted from deliberations over Wasps’ planning application.

Asked by us about multi-party talks, a council spokesperson said: “We received a letter from Coventry City Football Club after the planning application was determined and having received confirmation from the Secretary of State that this decision will not be called in, we will be responding to them shortly.

“Planning Committee approved the planning application subject to the concerns of Sport England being resolved. If they cannot be resolved the matter will be referred back to Planning Committee for further consideration. Accordingly, the Council has provided Sport England with further information regarding the proposals. We are awaiting a response.

“The future of the Academy is a matter for Wasps, Coventry Sports Foundation and Coventry City Football Club. However, as Planning Committee commented, we are supportive of the relevant parties meeting.”

The Coventry Observer has asked to see the council’s latest correspondence with Sport England, which throughout has not wished to publicly comment, although sources have told us it is seeking a solution favoured by all parties.

CCFC’s letter from Tim Fisher to Mr Russell states: “My understanding is that, as of last week, Sport England had received no contact from either the City Council nor Wasps regarding the application. Given the resolution of the Planning Committee to address the concerns of Sport England then not actually contacting the statutory consultee would be a little odd to say the least. I am sure this can be explained.

“As we have made clear in correspondence with you, the Football Club, although deeply concerned, is looking forward to sitting down with all interested parties including Sport England, the FA and the English Football League to discuss the potential and possibility for the academy to continue to be located at the Higgs Centre without losing its prized Category Two status if and when Wasps develop their proposed training centre.”

Of the swimming pool proposal, the letter states: “I am extremely surprised that none of this information was reported to the Planning Committee on 4th August, given that it directly affects the future use of the Higgs Centre and the ability of the Centre to continue to accommodate the Football Academy.”

It also raises questions over whether the football club academy, with its lease at the centre set to expire next June, could continue to operate during construction of the rugby facility and swimming pool.

We have also asked Wasps whether they would be prepared to take part in the multi-party talks, and have not received a reply.