I am pleased I can finally update you on the much speculated issues relating to our ground but first I would like to apologise to all Barnet FC supporters for the poor flow of information in the last few months. This has been due to the need for confidentiality in discussions with various parties as well as the disruption and changes to staff due to our office relocation. We have also had to contend with the very poor health of Dennis Signy, a true friend of Barnet FC who for years has kept you up to date with all the goings on behind the scenes. He is sorely missed by all connected with the club and we wish him well with his ongoing treatment.
Before going into specific details I once again ask supporters to carefully consider the content of our official statements as I have been totally staggered by the number of poorly informed articles appearing all over the web most of which, although appearing legitimate, are just plain wrong and in some cases even defamatory.
Copthall – Some observers are getting confused between land ownership and planning issues. For the record, we have no problem whatsoever with the planning permission granted for the site which would allow Rugby or Association Football to be played at Copthall. This was the right decision and something we ourselves have spent huge sums campaigning for. Neither do we have any issue with Saracens who are doing no more than what’s in the best interests of their own club, which is understandable.
The problem is that the Council have consistently told us and our supporters that they had no other site available in the borough for us to relocate to but then handed Copthall to Saracens for a peppercorn rent without properly and formerly tendering the land. If this was done then we would most certainly have bid, thus, giving us the opportunity to reapply for planning and help us maximise the previous investment made by us in this site. Our legal advice is that the Council must obtain "best value" on land disposals and in order to do this the process must be open, equitable and fair. Due to the veracity of our complaint, the Local Government Ombudsman has now decided our case merits the immediate appointment of an investigator and we are ready to assist with their enquiries.
Underhill – The issue here is pretty straight forward. Barnet FC access the stadium through Priory Grove and Barnet Cricket Club land, both of which are owned by Barnet Council.
The Council claim Priory Grove is a footpath and the club has no vehicle access rights even though we have used this for over 100 years. They have recently tried to sell us a licence for access but I’m sure any of you would be similarly upset if you were asked to purchase a yearly licence from the council just to access your own home! We will not be held to ransom over this.
The Cricket Club, which is owned by Barnet FC, has a lease which expires in December and this lease contains a clause which allows us to extend to 125 years. In order for us to take up this option, Barnet Council recently agreed to appoint a local independent surveyor to value the land but they then refused to allow us to see said report. We have since obtained a copy by making a freedom of information request and I am pleased to announce that the Council have now been in touch and arranged to meet with us to discuss the issue. Importantly, and a bit of good news for a change, they have also agreed to our request for a six month extension to the lease whilst talks continue so we thank them for this pragmatic step forward. I would also like to thank the BFCSA chairman, members and those supporters who have worked with us to help achieve this result.
The Hive – The tender we won for the management of this site included a half completed 3,000 capacity stadium originally intended for Wealdstone FC. They were unable to complete the stadium and chose instead to play at Ruislip so our subsequent intention was to use this for youth and ladies football. We later obtained planning permission for a 5,000 capacity Football League stadium which we intended as a back up plan if we were forced out of Underhill and have subsequently asked Harrow Council if we can locate there on a temporary basis. This will need to go through a residents consultation and formal approvals procedure and this process has already begun, we expect some resolution hopefully by the summer and if positive can have a stadium ready for season 2013/14. I need to stress here that this is only a temporary solution but one that ensures the security of the club. We also hope to address some of the public transport issues to ensure that a travel solution is available to make the commute for you as easy as possible.
We must always be mindful here of the support and help that was provided by the directors of Wealdstone FC when I first considered this project in around 2007. They are just as passionate about their club as we are about ours and I have to say that their recent experiences with ground problems have also been quite remarkable. Regardless of the legal position, I have given my word that as long as they pay their share of the cost then I will endeavour to also make the stadium available for their use in the event that they become homeless. It’s no secret in football that I am always championing the cause of the little club so it’s important that we provide support where we can just as I tried to do for Hendon FC in my role as a director of the FA.
Harrow Council – Where do I start when comparing these two Councils, it certainly is chalk and cheese! Harrow Council have been a very good partner at The Hive and this relationship has given us the confidence to invest several millions of pounds in the site. Importantly, we have cross party support there so have not experienced the problems we have in our borough where we are the continual victims of the animosity displayed to each other between the principle ruling parties. Unfortunately, this is the root cause of our problems with Barnet Council as we get kicked by them every time the Council changes colour and, I suppose, I struggle to understand why they cannot see the vast economic and community benefits we bring locally and hence the value of the asset they will be losing. This is not so in Harrow, who are very keen to have sport right across the borough and also want to benefit from the couple of hundred full and part time staff we employ at the club.
This note relates solely to off field matters but I’m sure you all want to discuss all aspects to do with the Club so during the close season I plan to do another Q&A session to bring you all up to speed on everything including what’s happening with the team. I also hope that once the office move is complete then we will be able to fill some of our outstanding vacancies and offer you, our supporters and customers, a more professional service moving forward.
Thank you all for your patience and continued support…..Come on you Bees!