Sixfields and Saints- History repeated has to be avoided

Support for Cobblers, Saints and Athletics is good news for Northampton
Support for Cobblers, Saints and Athletics is good news for Northampton
Sixfields  and Saints History repeated has to be avoided

First published 782 days ago

At the recent Borough Council meeting ( Monday 15th July) Cllr Terry Wire the Leader of the Borough Labour group asked the following important question of the Leader of the Council.

“The Labour group are pleased of the offer of support for the Cobblers after 7 years of prevarication and delays.

We are especially pleased for the supporters who have had their expectations raised in the past only to be badly let down by the Borough Council administrations so we are keen to ensure that this time their hopes aren’t dashed again.

Will the Leader of the Council give a definitive and categorical assurance that in announcing the £12 m loan to the Cobblers that the Chief Executive and Management Board have been fully involved throughout the loan negotiations, and that he has sought and received full legal advice that in the event of a challenge or judicial review his decision is sound?”

It is said that “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Which is why because of the history around the Sixfields issue, from which the Council has hopefully learned, the question was so important in avoiding making the same mistakes again.

There is also the complication of the linking the agreed loan to the Cobblers with that to the Saints.

It was welcome news that Cllr Mackintosh in answering the question confirmed and gave a categorical assurance that he had taken advice and that not only the loans but also the development issues were legal and allowed before he made his announcement.

At the Northampton Borough Council Cabinet meeting on the 17th July he confirmed that the purpose of that meeting was to delegate authority for him to negotiate the terms of the loans which further supported that his decision was sound.

All of which is excellent news for both the Saints and Cobblers fans and especially the clubs who having had their expectations raised in the past can now look forward to real progress in realising their ambitions in the next 18 months.

Of course there is some way to go and in welcoming the Leader of the Councils announcement I asked that consideration be given to ensuring that future reports are separated to reflect differences between the clubs.

There is no question that both clubs are separate businesses and that the arrangements for the loans will be agreed against a different set of criteria.

The Borough Council Cabinet report reflected the differences,

On the one hand we have the Saints who own Franklin Gardens and which over the past 10 years they have self- financed the development turning it into one of the best stadiums and clubs in England with attendances averaging over 10,000 for home games.

The redevelopment of the Sturtridge Pavilion is simply a continuation of the stadium development which means that as long as it gets planning permission the only thing that is preventing progress is finance.

I’ve been asked why should the tax payer loan the Saints £5m and what guarantees are there that it will be repaid.

The simple answer is that the Saints in their last 2012 audited accounts had a net worth of over £12.5m, assets of over £5m and had made a profit of £450k which puts them in a very sound position to finance the loan.

Perhaps more importantly and given the history of organisations that have objected to how the proposed Saints development would be financed through retail development the loan from the Council should negate their arguments.

The issues around the loan to  the Cobblers of course are also recognised and reflected in the Cabinet report,

To start with there is the issue that has been used in the past by opponents to the Sixfields Development that it doesn’t conform to the National Planning Policy Framework.

The main argument being that it is against the NPPF  policy that prioritizes the Town Centre regeneration.

Sixfields is of course as an ‘out of town’ development which unquestionably means the NPPF issue will be raised again by opponents using the same arguments as those against the Rushden Lakes development.

The variation in the lease of the stadium to allow for its development is not a serious problem because it is within the remit of the Council as the owners of the stadium to agree any variation to the current 150 year lease.

The report of course raises other more complicated issues such as will a loan be considered as “State Aid” under the EU laws on using tax payers money to support private and public companies and whether there might be limitations on the amount that can be loaned dependent on the financial risk to the tax payer.

Opponents may well seize on the fact that the Council has a duty to make sure that any loan can be repaid and point to the fact that the Cobblers don’t own Sixfields Stadium and have according to their 2012 accounts a negative net worth of -£7.5m.

What is good news of course is that this has been taken into account before the announcement of the loan was made and having been fully discussed with the senior management, financial and legal officers of the council it should negate any opposition arguments.

One aspect of the promise of the loan to the Cobblers that doesn’t apply to the Saints which is of great importance to Northampton is that it will see a new purpose-built Athletics Stadium constructed within the Borough.

As part of the Olympic Legacy it can only be good news for the town after years of seeing the current stadium decline to have an international standard athletics stadium and hopefully once again see local schools and athletes having access to first class facilities.

I have no doubt, and admit as a former PE teacher and Sports Development Officer that I’m biased, that the support of sports clubs whether it be rugby, football, athletics and all other sports is the right thing to do and will have long-term benefit to the future of Northampton.

Mistakes in the past have been made which have allowed opponents to mount concerted and sustained challenges which have held back the sporting potential in the town and county.

What the latest announcement to provide a £12m loan to the Cobblers and £5m loan to the Saints demonstrates with the confirmation that the decision is legally and financially sound is that from the mistakes of the past lessons have been learned.

To quote Al Franken a United States politician,

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.”

Northampton’s sport has had to suffer from the mistakes of the past; they should now be able to look forward to a much brighter and secure future.