'This brings our very future into doubt' – Stevenage FC chairman accuses council of not caring about the club after it refuses to fund North Stand
PUBLISHED: 14:22 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:15 27 February 2017
Stevenage FC’s chairman says the whole future of the club could be thrown into doubt after Stevenage Borough Council said it could not offer funding to improve the club’s ground.
On Friday, the council – which owns The Lamex Stadium ground and leases it to the club – said it could not afford to shell out cash to help improve the North Stand which needs to renovated in order to meet the standards demanded by the English Football League.
The Broadhall Way-based club said it would provide £900,000 from a grant secured from the Football Foundation and by taking out a loan, but needed the council to stump up £500,000 to rebuild the stand.
But the council has said government cuts and restrictions on how it spends its money mean it cannot help out.
Club chairman Phil Wallace said: “We have been telling the council for six years that the north end of the stadium we lease is not fit for purpose in the EFL. The 50 plus year-old facilities were second rate when built and are now truly awful.
“Wheelchair users are open to the elements, half the end has no cover and the toilets are a disgrace. It is totally beyond renovation or repair. How is that acceptable?
“Facilities have to be fit for purpose and the landlord should be part of the solution, but their statement reads as if we have been looking for a handout. In fact, what we want is for them to stand with the club and bring the town’s stadium – which they own – up to the standard expected in the EFL today.”
Mr Wallace says the council has not helped by refusing to sell the stadium to the club.
He has also accused the authority of granting planning permission for the new stand while not making them aware that – under the terms on which they purchased the land in the 1990s – the club cannot develop anything commercial on the site including building a new stand with income producing facilities.
He said: “So why didn’t they tell us this when we applied for planning consent – which the club paid the council £11,000 for – and why did they grant it?
“Not knowing this crucial piece of information we then spent over £50,000 on architects’ fees, only to then find when we went to tender that the council’s conditions of purchase prevented the stand – as approved by them – from being built.”
He added: “We have worked together with the council to bring the other three sides of the ground up to a decent standard for future generations and we need to find a way to do the last section of the stadium together. Times are tough for all of us, but the stadium isn’t going to improve on its own.”
The club says the council also delayed for a year in letting them know how new Football Foundation rules applied to the lease mean they cannot access grants for the development of the stadium.
Mr Wallace said the issue “brings the very future of the club into doubt” because unless it can find a solution that provides decent facilities for future generations, “there is little point in being an EFL club”.
He added: “I can’t believe that the council don’t care about that, because the club is so important to the town and the community.”
He has requested an urgent meeting with the council to try to resolve the situation.
The council says while it recognises the ‘contribution’ the club makes to the town, it simply cannot afford to back the stadium plans financially because its government grants will have been slashed by 80 per cent by 2020.
It issued a statement saying: “For several years, Stevenage Borough Council has faced continuing financial challenges. Our government funding has been reduced by almost £5 million since 2010, and we need to make a further million pounds of savings in the next three years. Additionally, as a publicly accountable authority, there are rules and restrictions around how we can spend money.
“As a result, we have had to give serious consideration to how we allocate our limited resources, and regrettably have informed Stevenage FC that we are not able to provide financial support for their North Stand development. Our priorities, shaped by Stevenage residents’ views and clearly set out in our corporate plan, focus on investments in housing development, town centre regeneration, and revitalising neighbourhood areas.
“Stevenage Football Club is a private business and leases the football ground from Stevenage Borough Council, which owns the land. Under the terms of the lease, responsibility for any repairs or improvements to the stadium essentially rests with the football club.
“We recognise and are grateful for the contribution that the football club makes to the town – on and off the pitch. We have given Stevenage FC both financial and ‘in-kind’ support for many years, and will continue to do what we can to support the club, but this will not involve the commitment of scarce public funds.”