Cobblers deal: ‘We’re not kicking the can down the road’
More delays as council defer decision on the deal
By Natalie Bloomer
A council decision on the Cobblers land deal has been deferred as the situation continued to change right up until hours before a cabinet meeting to vote on it last night.
Officers had originally recommended that an offer from CDNL (a subsidiary of the football club) should be approved despite a much higher rival bid from a company called Cilldara.
The deal relates to the sale of land next to the Sixfields Stadium which the council owns the freehold to and the football club leases.
The issue has proved difficult for the council leadership with many concerns being raised at a full council meeting last week, including from members of their own party. Questions were asked about why the council couldn’t extend the timeframe to allow it to fully consider the higher offer and about the valuation the authority had received for the land.
“It doesn’t look good, the officers have had months to work on this deal and councillors have spotted major issues with it at one meeting,” one Conserative party source said.
Just hours before the cabinet meeting was due to go ahead yesterday Northampton Town Football Club increased their offer to match Cilldara’s capital payment of £2.05m with a commitment that the athletics track on the land would only be used for the benefit of NTFC or the community and an overage provision to WNC on a sale of the CDNL land. This is in addition to a previous commitment that they would complete work on the East Stand of the stadium.
Shortly after the club’s announcement BBC journalist Matt Precey reported that Cilldara had last week threatened the council with legal action if it approved the lower CDNL offer.
At the meeting last night the cabinet agreed that a new timetable to assess the offers would be set, that the council should trigger a process in relation to the disposal of Assets of Community Value (the athletics track), and that a ‘best consideration’ would be conducted (to ensure that public assets are not sold by public authorities at an undervalue).
“We’ve picked up some points from the council meeting [last week], we had a jolly good airing of views and we’re working through those points,” Leader Jonathan Nunn said.
He went on to say that this was not them ‘kicking the can down the road’ and that although they are ‘not quite there’ on the deal they are ‘not far off’.
In a letter sent to the cabinet ahead of the meeting Labour’s deputy leader Emma Roberts said:
“Whilst appreciating that this deal is a Cabinet responsibility, as the designated opposition group, we feel that we have been given the near impossible task of us considering this process with details seemingly changing by the day, coming from sources outside of Cabinet, hours before meetings are due to take place. Cabinet cannot possibly control business in this way and the Council should not be asked to do so.
“The increased offer poses more questions than answers. It would seem that formal pre-decision scrutiny is the only way forward and the cabinet should not be approving a decision this evening.
“This is not about whether you are supportive of the club or not, this is about conducting business appropriately and in the overall public interest and rights of the public purse. I don't feel comfortable at the moment that either duty is being met.”
A number of Cobblers supporters who were watching the meeting online commented under the video to show their disappointment with the delay.
“So, we see that the former NBC and the current WNC are as incompetent as each other,” said one.
“It's all been agreed...RIP NTFC, the inept Council has killed the club,” said another.
Speaking to NN Journal after the meeting a Conservative party source said they believed the football club may have now done enough for the cabinet to back their bid.
“I think the feeling is that the cabinet will now support it but none of this needed to happen. They really weren’t listening when concerns were being raised, they shouldn’t have kept pushing ahead with it,” they said.
“Ultimately though if offers are being increased and improved that can only be a good thing.”
A decision is now expected to be made in March.
A statement from the football club about their increased their offer said:
“We feel by improving the offer we have taken the pressure off the decision for the Cabinet and we also take away the risk of losing the deal to outside developers, or it being delayed further. Those risks are just too great for the club, our supporters, and the Northamptonshire community whom we work closely with.
“The club’s offer is now far superior to any other offer, not just in financial terms, but also in reducing the risk of lengthy and expensive litigation and of course all the community benefits that come with it. This really is a win-win for the club and the Council.
“The club has been negotiating in good faith with WNC and before them NBC against an agreed set of principles which have now been fully honoured. The club has consistently been told by officers and members alike in writing, at meetings and publicly that the Council are mindful to agree a deal but have to ensure best value or best consideration but also need satisfactory independent professional advice to support any decision.
“The Council has now received all the detailed legal, valuation, audit and ground condition advice consistent with the Council’s stated principles and all such advice supports the deals which the club have put forward. After so much work and expense for the Council, the club now anticipates that the latest offer should be approved so that work can get underway in the interests of the club, the town and the wider community.”
You can read more about the deal here:
To receive our stories straight to your inbox, sign up below