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Grounds for hope on community stadium
10:53am Saturday 12th May 2012 in Diary
THE Community Stadium saga is rumbling on but in one piece of positive news for the project, as reported in The Press yesterday, York City Knights have now formally withdrawn their planning objection.
It’s not quite cut and dried just yet, though, as that withdrawal comes with a proviso that guarantees are written into a legal document over the shared stadium agreement. This has always been the Knights’ stance.
As readers of The Press will know, the Knights, while always in general favour of a new shared stadium with York City, had initially not signed up to the memorandum of understanding due to major concerns about the scheme and how it would actually work.
These issues concerned, among other things, a reduction in income streams, increased costs of rent, facilities for training, given they would not be able to use the new stadium like they do the present one, and the strength of the business case.
After many meetings and to-ing and fro-ing of information and opinion, the Knights have since signed up in principle to the scheme while maintaining concerns. Talks with council chiefs have continued behind the scenes, though, and now Knights chairman John Guildford, in a formal letter to the local planning authority, has given the club’s “full support for the York Community Stadium scheme” and has withdrawn their planning objection of November 2011.
Guildford’s formal letter (which can be found on the City of York Council website) is a detailed 1,300-word document outlining the case for the stadium, for the futures of both the Knights and City, and of City of York Athletics Club, who currently share Huntington Stadium with the rugby league club but are to get their own dedicated venue.
The Knights’ much-publicised concerns over training facilities have seemingly been allayed, although full details of this “dedicated facility” with “wider community benefits” are yet to emerge. Minds have also been put at rest as regards the business case – but, again, with provisos.
Guildford wrote: “As you are aware, I have welcomed and supported the scheme in principle but have needed clarification regarding certain elements of the business case. I am responsible for the club’s future and I take this responsibility seriously.
“However, after detailed discussions with the council’s project team, my concerns have been satisfactorily addressed.”
Later on in the letter, however, come the necessary provisos.
He wrote: “In determining this planning application it is also important the future interests of York City Knights are protected. For this reason we expect the planning committee to tie down the proposals by the use of appropriate legal agreements and/or conditions. These will relate to any issues that have not been finalised, but are referred to in the proposals, business case and the letter to the Knights from the project officer (which we have relied on in good-faith to give our full support).”
In particular they concerned the following points.
“Issues relating to reserve team games and training facilities are now acceptable to the Knights and offer better wider community sports access. However, it is important these facilities meet our minimum require-ments and are in place before the existing stadium is demolished.
“The provision of the new 3G synthetic pitches (adjacent to the stadium) with ‘shockpads’ are welcomed. However, we require confirmation that we will have adequate access to them for training and the delivery of our community programmes.
“We are happy to relocate while construction work is underway. However, it has been agreed that in using Bootham Crescent (York City’s ground), the Knights will not be financially disadvantaged and that access to these temporary facilities will be available.
“I am now satisfied there is sufficient commercial opportunity associated with the stadium to support the clubs involved. These arrangements will be part of the lease/ hire agreements to be signed. These will need to be of a reasonable length of time ie 20 to 25 years to ensure the stadium and the clubs have a chance to develop. It has been agreed that the rent and other aspects will be set for the first five years and reviewed at this point.”
A problem faced by Guildford since day one concerned the Knights’ other options should the scheme get rejected by planners – he has therefore had to fight hard for a strong negotiating position.
At present Huntington Stadium is getting increasingly run down, for both players and spectators, and it is not known how long the club could play there, with their original ten-year tenure now up. Moreover, council promises that the club would be “be no worse off”, while acting as assurances, did not provide any legal guarantee.
On the other hand, this formal support for the stadium scheme now strengthens its case should it go ahead on terms all parties are happy with.
Guildford wrote: “This application is important as it will help secure the future of the club. The club have no security of tenure and the facilities at Huntington Stadium fall considerably short of what is required to host professional rugby league.”
He wrote that the current facilities for rugby and football in the city were “sub-standard”, saying: “A city of York’s standing and national importance should have a stadium of which its residents can be proud.”
His argument, not dissimilar to that of the football club’s at their Bootham Crescent home, was that there were limited income generation opportunities, inadequate hospitality facilities, and sub-standard (playing) facilities.
The pitch itself, he wrote, “is in a poor condition” – something players and fans can no doubt testify to.
Crucially, a new stadium would offer the Knights “security of tenure and investment potential”, which their current “tenancy at will” to use the bar and hospitality facilities, and a two-year rolling contract to use the pitch, do not provide. The new stadium would also provide a better hub for the clubs’ community work.
It would seem the Knights can now stand shoulder to shoulder with City in their bid to see the project given the go-ahead. But they still face a fight to get it through.
Teen ace Johnson surges onto Press leaderboard
THERE’S been a forward march in The Press Player of the Year standings, though it was slightly arrested on Thursday night.
New scrum-half Ben Johnson, pictured, was the man of the match against Sheffield so jumps straight onto the leaderboard in his first week at the club with three points.
Captain James Ford (1pt) was also deemed our third-best player.
The other big movers in the two games this week, though, were forwards – all of whom are in the leading pack in the table.
Jack Aldous (2pts) was our second-best player against Sheffield, not least for his busy first spell, while Adam Sullivan (3pts) and Paul King (2pts) were our two leading lights at Swinton last Sunday. George Elliott (1pt), looking good on the wing in both games this week, clawed a point back for the backs that day.
Latest standings: Sullivan 13pts, Aldous 11, King 9, Ford 6, Thorman 6, Clarke 5, Bush 4, Tansey 4, Sutton 4, Green 3, Garside 3, Lee 3, Hellewell 3, Turner 3, Freer 3, Houston 3, Johnson 3, Elliott 1.