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Trust's open letter response to NTFC

14th Aug 2020

The Trust has replied to the open letter sent by Northampton Town Football Club on 3 August.

The letter is below:-

 

Kelvin Thomas
Chairman, Northampton Town FC


Open letter and also delivered via email on 14 August 2020


Dear Kelvin,

Many thanks for your open letter of 3 August and well done to everyone at the club for a fantastic promotion, fingers crossed for a good season in League One in these unprecedented and challenging times. 

The Trust board welcomes you getting in touch in the interests of openness, understanding and moving forward.

The club has chosen not to engage with the Trust for the last 18 months and has said much about the Trust’s so-called negative narrative, suggesting that we are determined to unsettle the club in pursuit of our ‘agenda’ on community ownership. This is not true and needs to be corrected if we are to build a meaningful relationship.

The Trust has been looking at a potential ownership model for the club should it one day again find itself in crisis, solely as a rainy day insurance policy. We would be very happy if any private owner of the football club, yourself and David Bower included, looked after
the club well.

But as an independent and democratic body, as you will recognise and hopefully appreciate, our role is to ask reasonable questions of the football club and other related parties in the interests of our members and I am not sure why such questioning should automatically be construed as ‘negative’. 

That said, like you, we would like to move on in a constructive manner and focus firmly on the matters in hand.

To that end, we met with Northampton Borough Council (NBC) leader Jonathan Nunn and chief executive George Candler on 6 August to discuss the East Stand completion and wider Sixfields land development deal that you have proposed to the Council.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) covering the proposed deal, as revealed in our recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request, and various issues relating to that document were the main subjects of discussion.

In summary, NBC’s position is that there is ‘no prospect’ of a deal being reached by September and further we were advised that there may be ‘insurmountable obstacles’ to achieving it, with the major sticking point remaining the completion and financing of the East Stand.

NBC stated that the football club should bear the cost of the stand expenditure and, if agreed, this would then unlock the wider land deal. The chief executive reported however that you have made it clear you will not spend any of your own money on completing the stand, without the prospect of this outlay being recovered.

The leader also added that the shadow West Northamptonshire Council, which will come into being in May 2021, will have to be consulted about the deal and the council admits that nothing might happen regarding the East Stand and a wider land deal until the new unitary authority is in office.

Therefore, despite expectations being raised in recent media reports, the matter unfortunately continues to be deadlocked. Hopefully, a constructive way forward can still be found to reach a deal which would be acceptable to you, the football club and its supporters and NBC.

The five points around which we would support a deal are listed below, together with our respective comments.

1. 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

Club: This is not factually correct, as firstly the current owners never purchased the club from NBC, and it was confirmed by Cllr Hadland at the last public Council meeting that this ‘alleged’ commitment never formed part of the agreed NBC/NTFC MOU in 2015. However, the proposed MOU, which you have seen, clearly shows the club will be responsible for the completion of the East Stand prior to any land development. As the club technically will not have said funds to do this, then obviously the current owners will provide those funds. This therefore should satisfy your concern and we are agreed on this matter. POINT AGREED

Trust: We have not said that you bought the club from NBC, but that NBC enabled you to buy the club by taking away more than £10 million in debt and with the previous owners, in your agreement with them, writing off directors’ loans of about £7 million owed to them. The agreed MoU in 2015 never included a legally-binding commitment to complete the stand but nonetheless a commitment by you was the clear understanding of NBC, given that you proved funds for East Stand completion and taking the club forward. This issue, or rather the detail of it, remains at the heart of the current negotiations and is unresolved. The draft 2020 MoU around the proposed deal clearly shows the club will be responsible for the completion of the East Stand prior to any land development. But it also clearly shows that your proposal is that the club will recover up to £3 million from the gross proceeds of sales the land development together with other expenses before any profits are divided 50/50. NBC indicated to us this is a major obstacle. If this outlay was repaid from the profits and not the gross proceeds of land sales the deadlock could be broken. POINT FOR DISCUSSION

2. The East Stand is completed without further delay and to a standard enabling the future progression of the football club

Club: This is an agreed point and an extract from the current proposed MOU that you have seen indeed states “NBC and NTFC acknowledge that it is in their joint interests to agree and execute the option deed as soon as possible”. Therefore, we are agreed that everything is completed with urgency and of course it is an agreed point that the Club want to complete the stand as soon as possible and to an acceptable standard. POINT AGREED

Trust: It is everyone’s best interests that the East Stand is completed as quickly as possible to a standard that is fit for purpose. Subject to further information around clear timescales and an acceptable plan POINT AGREED

3. 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 o development on NTFC leasehold site covered by the ACV, as long as anyproposal is aligned to the original intent of a community stadium.

Club: The current legal position is that the Football Club controls all the leases on all the relevant parcels of land either through NTFC or through its ownership of CDNL. Please bear in mind that technically NTFC has never owned CDNL prior to our ownership, so this has already become an asset for the Club, that the current owners have given to the Club and therefore a benefit for NTFC. It is the opinion of the Football Club that the easiest, most beneficial and more importantly deliverable solution for NTFC is that NTFC retain the current land leased to it and that the CDNL land is used to develop for the benefit of the Football Club, in partnership with NBC. Whilst you may disagree with this view, we wouldn’t fully understand the reasoning for this disagreement. As you have stated previously, the ACV protects the Football Club site anyway and we are fully conscious of the legal responsibility that NBC have in regard to the ACV and agree with that principal. In our opinion the MOU as suggested benefits the Football Club and this surely should be the primary concern to the Club and the Trust. Even if NTFC owned this part of the old athletics track what would the Club use this for? The athletics track has already been replaced with a new facility at Moulton College, so why wouldn’t the Club use part of this land which is actually already leased to CDNL to benefit NTFC rather than just allow it to sit there as a disused athletics track. If you have a different suggested use that directly benefits the Football Club better than what has been proposed, please share this with us, however subject to another suggestion, given the significant time and research that has already been carried out on this matter, we see the proposed option on the table as being the most beneficial to NTFC. POSSIBLE DISCUSSION POINT

Trust: We would like community land behind the stadium’s East Stand, including all the old athletics track land, restored to NTFC leasehold land as prior to 2014 and to be retained permanently by the club. In principle, we are happy for industrial development in line with the Local Plan to take place on land other than that on the football club’s traditional footprint. However, car parks which the club has had use of will be lost and supporters’ parking needs will need to be accommodated elsewhere. While CDNL is owned by the football club, the leases remain with CDNL and not NTFC and that remains a concern. There is nothing to prevent a sale by the club of the shares in CDNL at any time or, if the freehold title was acquired by the club, the sale of the freehold. Our suggested possible uses of the land which would benefit the football club and the community include a training complex, synthetic pitches and potentially a hotel, a conference centre or an extended private hire venue if not part of the East Stand completion but, essentially, we just want reassurance that the club would retain some assets which could help to support the football business. POINT FOR DISCUSSION

4. Development land gain from a joint venture partnership delivers uaranteed 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.

Club: As you know NTFC controls all the leases and also controls CDNL and therefore any development gains will go to NTFC for the benefit of the Football Club. Therefore, this is an agreed point. POINT AGREED

Trust: Can you provide more detail as to how the club, as opposed to you as the present owners of the club, will benefit going forward? It is clear that if a development deal is agreed with NBC, profits will be used to repay debt to the owners and the controlling entities and there may be little left over in the club’s coffers to take forward. The worst-case scenario is that when you move on the club may have no capital and no land asset enabling it to grow and progress. If you can give us any acceptable guarantee as to how the club’s interests will be protected and how it will benefit in the future, other than by the completion of the East Stand, then we may have a POINT AGREED

5. The aims of the town’s sport, health and wellbeing strategy are met as part of Northampton’s local plan.

Club: We are not fully understanding why this is even the Trust’s responsibility and certainly not why it would be a necessary requirement for you to be supportive of a deal that primarily should benefit the Football Club. Surely the aims of the town’s sport, health and wellbeing strategy is a matter for NBC and whilst we would want to ensure that any deal presented also benefits the town, our first obligation is to NTFC and we would hope that would be the Trust view also. We also feel that the existing work that we already do in the Community would play a large part of meeting any of the Council’s sport, health and wellbeing strategy requirements for the town. Maybe you could share this strategy with us and how it incorporates the Sixfields site to help us understand this matter more. However, for clarity, we also understand the CDNL parcel of land owned by the Football Club has actually been designated as potential employment land in the Northampton Local Plan anyway and the proposed development aligns itself very well to the existing Local Plan. NBC RESPONSIBILITY NOT THE CLUB OR TRUST

Trust: Point accepted, this is a matter for the local authority and for them to decide how industrial development and community facility development would benefit the town under the Local Plan. POINT AGREED

We believe that, with three points agreed and two up for discussion, we can hopefully move forward in a constructive fashion.

On point 1, our view is in line with that of NBC and if there is any way you can accommodate a change in the arrangements for the financing of the stand completion then I am sure an agreement would be very much in reach.

On point 3, we merely require more detail about the plots of land earmarked for development, what that development looks like and how that impacts on the land behind the East Stand. If any development on that land directly benefits the football club and the local community in the long term then this could also be agreed quite straightforwardly.

A number of supporters have asked why the Council, football club and Trust cannot sit round a table and determine an acceptable way forward. We would be happy to attend such a meeting but, in any event, please let me know if you feel the Trust can assist in any way.

Like everyone else, we want this long-running saga settled but it needs to be accomplished in a way that provides suitable reassurance that itis the best outcome for the club and its supporters.

Best wishes,
Andy

 

Andy Roberts
Chairman
NTFC Supporters Trust

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