Council leader now admits to discussions with Sixfields rival bidder
Jonathan Nunn has been forced to admit to previous dealings with Cilldara
By Natalie Bloomer
Council leader Jonathan Nunn has been forced to admit to having discussions with rival bidders in the Sixfields land deal, Cilldara, as far back as 2020.
On March 8th the council’s cabinet voted to accept an offer from CDNL (a subsidiary of Northampton Town Football Club) for land next to Sixfields Stadium over a higher bid from Cilldara. During the meeting leader Cllr Jonathan Nunn said:
“This has been an officer-led process throughout without our involvement until about last November when the officers told us they had something to discuss and we briefed all members…up to that point it was completely officer led, to the point that I’ve had personally no contact with people from CDNL or indeed Cilldara.”
However, in a statement Cilldara said the company has been in talks with Nunn since January 2020.
“Since January 2020 Jim Kelly MD of this company, and his representatives have been talking to Jonathan Nunn, at that time leader of Northampton Borough Council (subsequently WNC) along with other officers and its [then] CEO, George Candler. Therefore, it is necessary to debunk any notion that the offers made by Cilldara came unsolicited or unexpectedly and without the knowledge of the decision-making officers and councillors at the council.”
Cilldara’s statement also responds to a comment made by Cllr Nunn to NN Journal following the cabinet meeting. At the time he said:
“Taking the decision to agree to an arrangement with CDNL is consistent with the professional advice, it means the development of the land is not locked up for two years and that Sixfields is not then embroiled in even more long/fierce/expensive legal battles. Beyond the financial assessment, this arrangement also gets the stand built, which a lot of people see as being very important.”
Cilldara says this is also incorrect:
“If Cilldara became the owners of the land WNC would have no further responsibility in the matter and as part of our offer we said that we would provide a full indemnity to the council against any adverse legal consequences. Therefore, there would be no financial risk or exposure for the local taxpayers.”
The West Northants Labour group says they were not informed of any meetings between Nunn and Cilldara and that they were told there would be no involvement of politicians until the deal went to cabinet or full council.
“We are incredibly concerned to learn that there has been a significant lack of transparency in relation to the Sixfields land deal. As the principal opposition group, we have felt we have been limited by the level of scrutiny we have been able to conduct on this deal,” deputy group leader Emma Roberts said.
“Information regarding terms of sale to Cilldara Ltd and the meetings that Jonathan Nunn has had with the company, were not disclosed to us during opposition briefings. In actual fact we were told the exact opposite. We were told that all negotiations on this land deal were officer-led, to ensure integrity and that politicians would not be part of the process until a deal came to council or cabinet.
“The absence of political dialogue, we feel, was one of the core reasons issues like land valuations and the Asset of Community Value were made such a mess of. A series of debacles that reflected badly on all Councillors, even those of us in opposition. Now we learn that there was undisclosed political dialogue from the top of the authority, albeit with another player in this game. So, we have council officers negotiating a deal with the football club on the one hand and the Leader of the council holding back room talks with a competitor bidder on the other.”
Now the Labour group is calling for Nunn to make a full statement regarding the issue.
“The process has become a farce and we are expecting that Cllr. Nunn makes a full statement on the matter at the next council meeting.
“This lack of transparency is not the way that council business should be conducted, and the entire process has become a mess - one that has always been entirely avoidable had the process been open and transparent from the very start.
“The opaque nature of this business has led me to question every party's motivation and intention in this transaction. What really worries me is that it appears that the people of Northampton and one of their most prized assets, the football club, have become bargaining chips in the pursuit of profit."
When contacted by NN Journal Cllr Nunn said:
“To clarify my comment made during the Cabinet meeting, I have had no contact with either Cilldara or CDNL during the recent bidding process. In November 2020, given both the history and the creation of the new council, discussions were handed over to Theresa Grant (then CEO of NCC and Anna Earnshaw (CEO designate for WNC) to lead an independent discussion and evaluation of the options for Sixfields with advisors.
“I was involved in meetings with the directors of CDNL/NTFC and council officers during my time as leader of Northampton Borough Council, but felt it was appropriate to have no further contact or part in any land discussions with CDNL and given it was likely to be West Northants Council that agreed any final deal. So, all discussions and negotiations were lead by these senior council officers working with independent advisors and internal subject matter leads. I also felt this was important because of the serious concerns that had been raised around too much councillor involvement in the previous 2013 deal with NTFC, something that I was not prepared to see repeated.
“I’ve met with representatives of Cilldara, including with Mr Kelly who I met in person two or three years ago, again this was along with Northampton Borough Council officers. At that time their interest in Sixfields went beyond the development land, and they spoke of being in discussions to try and buy the football club.
“Representatives of Cilldara approached me in late 2021, following the council making information public about a proposed deal with CDNL. They told me that they were interested in making a bid for the development land, and so similarly I immediately referred this to council officers to follow up, rather than entering into any discussions on it myself. For all the reasons stated above I have had no discussions with either CDNL or Cilldara other than passing on any emails sent to myself and cabinet members to the officers leading the negotiations.
“My comments at the cabinet meeting were therefore made firstly as an assurance that neither myself nor other councillors had been involved in negotiating, and secondly by way of explanation as to why I had felt it not to be appropriate for me to enter any dialogue with either party during bidding and negotiations.”
NN Journal has been at the forefront in scrutinising the West unitary council and its handling of this proposed land deal.
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