WASPS rugby club have pulled out of plans to build a £7million training centre at the Alan Higgs Centre home of Coventry City Football Club’s purpose-built ‘lifebood’ youth academy.
But a separate long-held city council plan to build a new 50-metre pool on part of the site in Allard Way is pressing ahead with a planning application.
The Coventry Observer’s long-running Save Our City campaign called on all parties to work towards an end to a multi-party dispute engulfing the Sky Blues, and find effective long-term stadium and academy solutions.
The dispute provided the context for the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s sale of the Ricoh Arena to Wasps in 2014, as well as the row over the Higgs centre’s future.
Wasps’ plans for the Higgs centre received planning permission from Coventry councillors last year, despite protests that it would displace Coventry City’s prized youth academy, a centre of excellence for bringing on the city’s elite young footballing talent.
The academy has recently produced stars such as Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson and Norwich’s James Maddison. It gains crucial six-figure funding from the football authorities due to the standard of its facilities and quality.
We revealed the football club had negotiated a one-year extension to the contract with Higgs centre operators the Coventry Sports Foundation, after it was due to expire last June.
The football club had been examining other options for the academy.
The club has not yet stated what its latest plans are for its academy, or where it will play future home games after its Ricoh Arena tenancy deal expires next year.
The swimming pool would replace the city-centre Olympic-sized 50-metre pool at Coventry Sports Centre in Fairfax Street.
It would be built on indoor facilities currently used by the football club, which under the plan would be relocated elsewhere on the site.
Since the Wasps Ricoh Arena deal in October 2014 and the traditionally London rugby club’s relocation to Coventry from High Wycombe, Wasps Holdings Limited has been running at debts of over £40million will ongoing annual losses at the Ricoh, despite an upturn in revenue.
There had been speculation over how Wasps would be able to afford the £7million to build its new training centre.
Wasps had initially expected to move in by the start of this current season. But the rugby club announced it was instead going to continue using Broadstreet rugby club temporarily as its training base.
Wasps said today it was examining options for a training base, adding it had not proved possible to co-ordinate building its training centre at the Higgs centre with the timeframe for the site’s wider development, which it “did not want to hold up.”
A restrictive covenant inserted by the Higgs charity remains in place at the Higgs centre, which would block the football club from owning or long-leasing the facilities there until five years after any legal action.
Sky Blues’ owner Sisu is still pursuing high court action against the council’s Ricoh sale to Wasps, on a cut-price 250-year deal not offered to the football club.
It would not prevent rolling shorter-term arrangements that could potentially enable the Sky Blues academy to stay at the Higgs centre.
THE FOLLOWING JOINT STATEMENT WAS ISSUED TO THE MEDIA TODAY BY THE HIGGS CENTRE, COVENTRY SPORTS FOUNDATION, THE COUNCIL AND WASPS
A planning application has been submitted ahead of building a new state-of-the-art 50-metre swimming pool for the city.
If successful, the application would see the pool built at the Alan Higgs Centre off Allard Way.
It would be created on the site of the current indoor pitch, which is proposed to be replaced elsewhere on the site as part of the application.
The new indoor pitch would be ready for community use in September 2018 with the pool anticipated to be open to the public around May 2019.
The application has been submitted by Coventry And Warwickshire Award Trust (CAWAT), which owns the Alan Higgs Centre. The new facilities would continue to be managed by Coventry Sports Foundation, with Wasps agreeing to create new their training complex elsewhere in the local area.
Paul Breed, Chief Executive of Coventry Sports Foundation, believes the planning application is a major milestone for the development.
He said: “It has been a lot of hard work but it is great to finally get the application in as we are committed to providing top quality community facilities similar to those at our other centres – Centre AT7 and the Xcel Leisure Centre.
“As well as a new state-of-the-art 50-metre swimming pool, we are re-providing the indoor pitch meaning that the extensive community use of this facility will not be lost as a result of the swimming pool development.”
Councillor Kamran Caan, Coventry City Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Sport, is delighted the new swimming pool has moved a step closer.
He said: “It is well known that we have given a commitment to look for an alternative to the existing, and aging, 50-metre pool at Fairfax Street which is no longer fit-for-purpose and loses significant money in annual subsidy – money we would rather invest each year in other services.
“Working with partners, we are now a step closer in helping to deliver a state-of-the-art, 50-metre swimming pool that will benefit the city and beyond and is in line with my commitment to support a more active city.”
Wasps Chief Executive Nick Eastwood said: “Unfortunately it has not proved possible to coordinate our own plans with the time frame needed for the construction of the pool and related complex, and we do not want to hold up the wider development in any way.
“A number of separate sites have been identified as providing viable options for our training ground needs, including what is currently our preferred site. Those avenues are being actively pursued and are in an advanced stage of discussion.”