The second Save Coventry Stadium meeting took place on Thursday 26th May 2016 in the Scarman House Lecture Theatre at the University of Warwick, in Coventry.
Around 100 people attended, mostly stock car and speedway fans and a small number of local residents affected by the planned development of the stadium site. The lack of local representation was probably due to the location of this second meeting, the first being held last July in Binley Woods Village Hall. Local drivers Nigel and Mark Harrhy and Paul Hines were present along with other familiar faces to hear the latest on the Coventry Stadium saga.
The “top table” was made up of Pete Lawrence from the Save Coventry Speedway group, Brandon Bees manager Mick Horton, Dave Carter for BriSCA and Michael Stokes from Rugby Borough Council.
Following a recap of the previous gathering, it was confirmed that the stadium site had been sold by Avtar Sandhu for £2.7m to a Jersey-based company, Brandon Estates, which wants to build 250 houses on the land. It was suggested the purchase of the stadium may be an example of land banking, whereby land is bought up and left untouched, sometimes for years until the time to sell is right or the necessary planning permissions are granted. Mr Sandhu has a lease for the stadium to remain until 31 December 2016. It was hoped that applying for the stadium to be considered as an Asset of Community Value might give cause for hope, but this was rejected by Rugby Borough Council on 4th May 2016 on the grounds that the site is used on a commercial basis and not for public/community use. As I understand it, an ACV gives interested parties in the community a fair chance to bid for a property up for sale – as the stadium has already been sold this option is not available.
Jeremy Heaver was unable to attend the meeting but a statement from him was read out, detailing some of the efforts made so far to secure an alternative stadium site. Brandon Wood Farm, a potential site not far from the existing stadium and one which raised the hopes of some fans is a non-starter – Rugby Borough Council would object to any application because it is on greenbelt land and access to the site is only possible via a single track, mile long lane which cannot be widened. Other sites looked at include the Butts Park Arena, Coventry Airport, Stoneleigh Park, Ling Hall landfill site and Ansty Park as well as around twenty other locations but these have all been ruled out of the equation. The focus of Mr Heaver’s efforts appears to now rest with a site thirteen miles from Brandon in the Nuneaton area and talks are said to be ongoing.
For their part, the view of Rugby Borough Council is that, while a perfectly good stadium exists (although no one would deny it needs some money spending on it), no new stadium should be built. They see the site as a viable sporting location and want to keep it where it is. Michael Stokes has been in contact with the new owners and has highlighted the local and historical importance of Coventry Stadium. While RBC has no official role in the process, they have offered advice and guidance and have spent over 28 man hours looking for a new site and the efforts of RBC in general and Mr Stokes in particular should be applauded by all parties. He will continue to personally oversee discussions regarding the future of the stadium and his primary goal is to retain Brandon Stadium permanently.
Framptons, planning consultants acting for the new owners, were also invited to appear at the meeting but declined. Mr Stokes said that Framptons would require permission to demolish the stadium and no such permission had yet been applied for. The site is not included in RBC’s local plan and they will not, currently, accept the stadium site as a housing development. Building 250 homes on the site would effectively double the size of the Brandon hamlet and would not be permitted. Of course circumstances and housing policies can change. The government is pressuring local councils into building more new homes and the Rugby area, like many others I suspect, has seen a number of potential new housing sites identified, with the inevitable protest groups set up to fight their respective corners.
As Johnny Nash once sang, there are more questions than answers and, while this meeting may not have allayed the fears of any speedway or stock car fans about the uncertain future of Coventry Stadium, there was slightly better news about Birmingham Wheels which is also under threat. It seems there is strong support to resist development for employment use at the Wheels Park facility until a replacement site is found and the problem of ground contamination is fully sorted.
If Brandon closes in November, the site will still need to be kept secure and rates will still need to be paid – a figure of £150,000 was quoted. It would, in my opinion, be morally and financially wrong to leave the stadium to rot when some income could be derived from it after 2016 by negotiating a lease extension with the new owners.
In the meantime, make sure you sign the Save Coventry Stadium protest.
Words and photos: Mick Jenkins