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Trust position on proposed East Stand and land deal

21st Nov 2021

On Thursday 18th November, at the invitation of the football club, representatives of the Trust met with NTFC Chairman Kelvin Thomas, Directors James Whiting and Tom Cliffe, and Supporters Liaison Officer Wendy Lambell. Also present to record the meeting and present selected information was Head of Media Gareth Willsher. WNC Trust liaison Councillor Phil Bignell also attended for the first hour.

We would like to thank those present for their time in a meeting that lasted almost three hours. The club provided some answers to the ten questions asked earlier in the day by the Trust, and there was also a very frank discussion around the wider East Stand and land development situation. Key points from the meeting are detailed after the summary of the Trust’s position below.

Trust Position on Proposed Stand and Land Deal We have received repeated assurance from Kelvin Thomas, echoed by James Whiting and Gareth Willsher, that any profit from land deals will be used to reduce club debt as much as possible. Based on approximate numbers quoted by Kelvin, the club could still end up £5m in the red. There are no further questions we can ask at this stage in our attempts to nail down a definite positive result for the long term future and benefit of our football club.

As the football club’s directors contend that there are too many unknowns to be able to produce a financial plan or forecast all we can do in these circumstances is trust in the owners, directors and senior staff at NTFC to ensure this commitment is honoured. If any deal is not utilised for the maximum benefit of the football club, it is they who will be on the wrong side of history. West Northants Council also has a strong moral duty not to simply do a deal, take the money and wash its hands of the football club and its supporters. The numbers given in the published plans and discussed at the meeting are, frankly, underwhelming, but there is a possibility that the returns could be significantly higher than expected, and we would expect full transparency if this were the case, with any upside also used for the longer-term benefit of the football club.

Our strong preference is for the original footprint of the club (an Asset of Community Value) to be reunified and retained for the development of assets which could bring long-term additional revenue into the club, as the financial information provided strongly indicates that even after the completion of the East Stand and the sale of the land, the club will remain indebted to the owners and continue to lose money. Whilst the deal as proposed could result in an improved position compared with the current situation, it would still leave the football club financially in an unsustainable position and reliant upon loan funding by its owners.

We would be willing to work with the club in exploring options for the original footprint, and in helping to fund any infrastructure assets beyond the East Stand which could result in further steps towards sustainability and not leave the club with a disappointing East Stand, still in significant debt and still losing money with no land and no apparent route to further revenue streams.

Key points from Trust meeting with NTFC Directors:

  • The owners see no other option than finishing the stand as presented in the Open Day brochure. Kelvin Thomas feels that document contains all the detail that is required. He stated that all alternative options had been explored including, for example, demolition of the East Stand steel and concrete structure and rebuilding with a substantially larger upper tier, and/or expansion of either or both the North and South stands: no detailed costings were evidenced, but they use a rule-of-thumb cost of £1000 per seat. Analysis undertaken by the club claimed that even if there had been additional capacity over the last 6 years only an additional 11,500 tickets would have been sold. All parties agreed that a completed East Stand as per the latest plans will be nothing special, and that the estimated additional revenue of £250,000 p.a. will not prevent NTFC from being a loss-making enterprise.
  • Kelvin Thomas asserted that the Trust is trying to block the proposed deal with WNC, which he added is an agreed deal subject to final council approval. He stated that the Trust would be on “the wrong side of history” if it blocked the deal because the football club would be in a much worse position if the deal doesn’t go through. More than once he said if the deal was not approved by WNC the future of the club was in peril but that he and David Bower would not be seriously affected financially.
  • The Trust representatives asserted that we are not at this stage trying to block a deal, and that we do not have the power to do so anyway as it is ultimately a matter for WNC. We want further detail and reassurance that it will be the best possible deal for the future of the football club. Whilst there are five development “options” explored in the Lambert Smith Hampton viability modelling report, Kelvin explained that it is not the club’s report and there is no clear view on how the land might be developed following a deal. However, he did say that the owners would not be cleaning up the land and that it would be sold in its present unremediated condition. There is still no clear idea of how much that land might be worth.
  • The Trust accepted that the land in its present condition has a low value and that there are risks for the owners, e.g. no bidders for the untreated land.
  • Kelvin Thomas explained that the owners want to recoup the money they have lent to the football club via the land deal, which will leave NTFC in a better position as per their repeated promises, because the debt will be reduced and it will have a completed East Stand. He also accepted that the club is likely to continue to be loss-making and therefore still would not be sustainable.
  • When it was suggested by Trust representatives that it might be possible for some of the land to be retained for the football club (e.g. the club’s original footprint of stadium plus athletics track area) to develop assets to provide further ongoing revenue, Kelvin Thomas asserted that every possible option has already been considered by the club and the investment required to develop in this way is not available, so in their view the deal as proposed is the only viable option. Any sporting related infrastructure on the athletics track area is considered unviable.

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