THE board of the Supporters Trust has a number of reservations about the deal in progress around the completion of the East Stand at Sixfields and the associated development of wider land around the stadium.
The board believes the deal does not represent the best interests of either Northampton Town FC (NTFC) or its supporters. It is for the local politicians to say as to whether or not it delivers best value for the local council taxpayer.
As a result of a lack of specific information provided to supporters by both NTFC and Northampton Borough Council (NBC), the Trust made a third Freedom of Information (FOI) request to NBC and the disclosures indicate that preparations for a Sixfields deal – reported by the media last month - are well advanced.
The deal stipulates that NTFC must first complete the East Stand from its own coffers but the club’s owners will get up to £3 million paid back to them, together with other agreed development costs, from the gross sales proceeds of the associated development land. NBC and NTFC will then split the profits 50/50 after the agreed deductions.
This is a clear breach of the ‘three red lines’ which NBC emphasised to the Trust in 2019 were an inviolable part of any Sixfields deal – 1) that the leasehold land behind the East Stand, subject to a second lease granted by NBC to County Developments Northampton Ltd (CDNL), be reconciled to NTFC by CDNL giving up that land; 2) that the stand is completed and 3) that then, and only then, would negotiations begin in relation to the surrounding development land.
The disclosures also indicate that there appears to be no legal or financial scrutiny of the deal taking place within NBC. Internal correspondence from Francis Fernandes, Borough Solicitor and Monitoring Officer and Stuart McGregor, Chief Finance Officer, contained in the FOI disclosures, reveals that as recently as 9 June 2020 they were both completely unaware of the details of the deal under discussion with the club’s owners.
This sits uncomfortably with the fact that NBC is still in the process of trying to recover the missing millions of pounds from the scandal of the last Sixfields land deal five years ago, with the results of a police investigation and an external audit report still pending.
The Trust has requested an urgent meeting with NBC leader Jonathan Nunn who has said he is willing to meet. This follows last week’s full council meeting at which opposition leaders posed a number of questions to the administration about the Sixfields deal. The questions, and the answers to them, can be found on the Trust’s website.
Board members are extremely concerned that the details of this deal are once again being kept private under the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’ when openness and transparency should be an imperative.
The Trust has consistently stated it wants the East Stand completed to an acceptable standard as soon as possible. If this is part of a good deal for the town and club, there should be no need for secrecy.
It appears that:-
· The club will pay a nominal fee to take up an option to purchase from NBC the freehold titles of the development land at Sixfields. The option period is to be five years and if the option is not exercised within that period it will lapse.
· The club will complete the East Stand to as yet an unknown standard – no start or finish date is mentioned in the disclosures but work on the stand may not start for several years.
· Once the stand is completed, the club can exercise the option to buy the land for £500,000 and so sell and/or develop the other 22 acres of land. The land valuation and development appraisal were redacted from the disclosures. The Trust will strongly resist any attempt to earmark the original community stadium footprint land for industrial development.
· The club will be able to claim back the costs of completing the stand up to an amount of £3 million, the £500,000 paid on exercise of the option and other land development costs from the gross sales proceeds received from the disposal of land within the 22 acres.
· After the deduction and reimbursement to the club of the above sums and other agreed items, the remaining profits will be split 50/50 between NBC and NTFC. There is no mention of any protections for the football club in the event of its sale, or that any profits earned from the development land are to be retained by the club for its future benefit.
To be constructive, the Supporters Trust would broadly support a deal in which:-
The East Stand is completed from the funds of the club’s owners, as they clearly committed to when they were allowed by NBC to buy the club for £1 in 2015
The East Stand is completed without further delay and to a standard enabling the future progression of the football club
Community land from the East Stand to the far side of the old athletics track land, previously leased to the club before 2014, is returned to the club and not used for industrial development – the stadium, West Stand car park and the land extending to the far side of the old athletics track land has been classified as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) and for which the Trust is the registered holder. We are not opposed to development on NTFC leasehold site covered by the ACV, as long as any proposal is aligned to the original intent of a community stadium.
Development land gain from a joint venture partnership delivers guaranteed future benefit to the club. While accepting that legitimate indebtedness needs to be repaid the club and its supporters, as well as the owners, should also benefit from the receipt of any surplus development profits.
The aims of the town’s sport, health and wellbeing strategy are met as part of Northampton’s local plan.