The Assistant Director of Assets and Environment presented a report to Council which sought to address the options for the disposal of land at Sixfields currently owned freehold by WNC. The report discussed the proposals put forward by the current long leaseholder, County Developments (Northampton) Limited (‘CDNL’), as well as an additional proposal from Cilldara Limited, and provided Members with information to support a discussion on the matter in advance of the Cabinet Meeting to be held on the 28th February, where a decision would be made.
Members made comment, asked questions, and heard:
· The Council set the timetable in which to consider and assess options.
· Due diligence had been carried out in respect of backers of the CDNL proposal; since the Council was receiving money, there was little risk in terms of financial issues.
· The running track had benefitted from some remediation, the main site has had limited works carried out on it.
· There was no trace of Chinese involvement on the public record, and this was not considered to be relevant in terms of land transaction.
· The Council did not have a specific ethical policy, but the Council would always seek to work in an ethical way.
· There had been no requests from any of the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committees to review this issue, although they were empowered to do so if they wished.
· The disposal of the site would “tidy up” the issue around various leases on the site.
· The Cilldara area covered 17.29 acres and the CDNL area was 20.90 acres.
· Any decision made by Council in respect of the disposal of land at Sixfields would be carried out properly so the Assistant Director of Assets and Environment did not feel that this should be a priority for the Council’s external auditor. However, this was a decision for the auditor and the Council would welcome and cooperate should they choose to investigate the decision.
The Monitoring Officer clarified that being a Cabinet decision, officers approached the Chair of the Cabinet, the Leader of the Council in respect of the decision-making timetable.
Councillor Longley proposed the report and thanked the Assistant Director of Assets and Environment for his detailed presentation.
Councillor M Brown seconded the report and reserved his right to speak.
Members made comments as follows:
· The Labour Group supported the principle of a deal with the owners of NTFC on the sale of land but had concerns which they sought to deal with by suggesting that a condition of the sale be included on the athletics track so that its use could only be for the current/future purposes of NTFC. This would effectively be a condition on the current WNC/NBC part only and the Cilldara area on Plan 3 of the Council report be the only footprint to be developed for non-NTFC related enterprises. An alternative option would be to remove any ACV land from the sale and look to incorporate into existing stadium lease and essentially retain the ACV.
· Cabinet were urged to ensure that they understood the details of the entire deal before they made a decision. It was questioned why the Club had not developed the East Stand at any time over the last 6 years.
· Plans should include facilities for young people and an athletics track. The sale of the land and subsequent development should fit in with the Council’s emerging Sports and Leisure Strategy.
· It was very unfortunate that the issue around the Club had become so polarised, but it would be unwise to push forwards with so many unanswered questions, specifically the second offer of more money for less land.
· Concern around the potential development and whether the Club’s debt would be cleared by the development.
· A member stated they would like to see the second offer being considered in more depth and suggested a delay of a few months would not harm any potential sale, considering how keen the current bidders were.
· The need for the East Stand to be completed, including proper facilities for disabled people was acknowledged, but concern was expressed around the number of “unknowns” surrounding the deal.
· It was suggested that Cabinet should accept neither offer, assess the options for housing, and reassess the position in 2024.
· It was suggested that the deal should have gone through a pre-scrutiny process and further options, including the costs were the Council to develop the stand itself, should be included.
· Some concern was expressed around the Club not completing the stand in its 6 years of ownership, and around what might be built on the land proposed to be disposed of.
· It was suggested the Council had big aspirations, including to become a city; it needed city-level facilities. It was noted that as the planning authority, the Council had a level of control over what may be built on the land that was proposed for disposal.
a) Noted the contents of the report and the options open to the Council.
b) Provided comments to the Cabinet.