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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

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Call for councillors to resign over stadium

A POLITICAL storm has erupted over the way Copeland Council has handled the Whitehaven community sports stadium project.

As sensitive talks continue to try to save the £5.5 million stadium development from collapse, the borough council has been accused of allowing itself to be held to ransom over a £750,000 pave-the-way land payment demanded by Whitehaven Miners Welfare.

It has been dubbed “the ransom strip” – a stretch leading into the Recreation Ground (home of Whitehaven RL) which is needed to gain access for the stadium build on the ground owned by Whitehaven AFC.

Both rugby and football clubs would share the planned community stadium.

But Copeland Council’s opposition Tory group leader David Moore has called for the stadium to be axed. The promised millions of pounds from Britain’s Energy Coast should be spent on other worthy schemes in the borough, he insists.

The £750,000 sought by the Miners’ representatives would be on top of an annual rent of £7,500 over the period of a long lease.

It is understood an offer of around £300,000 was rejected. The land itself has been valued at only £135,000.

“To pay anything like £750,000 would be throwing good money after bad. These are mind-boggling figures and it’s more ratepayers’ money we’re putting at risk,” Coun Moore said.

Around £1 million has already been spent on a stadium viability study and consultants’ fees.

Pow Beck stadium is a key Energy Coast scheme. Nuclear Management Partners has pledged £4million – this is still on the table – and another £1.5 million has been agreed in principle from the Copeland Community Fund. BEC still wants the stadium to go ahead and hopes an amicable solution can be reached.

The chairman of Britain’s Energy Coast, former Labour energy minister Brian Wilson, said yesterday: “It’s extremely frustrating if at this late stage the project is going to stall and the World Cup games lost.

“I appeal to everyone involved to understand the limits of what is possible and agree a solution in the wider interests of the Whitehaven and Copeland community. Britain’s Energy Coast has been unswerving in its support for this development and remains committed to it.”

But the stadium development partners consider the £750,000 asking price for the access route to be excessive. The Miners upped the asking price at a crucial round-the-table meeting last Friday. Negotiations over the lease terms are said to have reached a critical stage.

Copeland Council chief executive Paul Walker said yesterday: “We are all working hard to make it happen.”

Unless a deal is tied up in the next few days the chances of the planned RFL World Cup games being played on a new stadium next autumn appear slim as the RFL has to finalise its arrangements next week.

Lambasting the Labour-controlled council over the drawn-out negotiations, Coun Moore said: “It is right and proper that some members of the executive, including the leader of the council (Elaine Woodburn) should seriously consider their positions because this is a debacle.

“We have got it wrong. Spending a fortune (probably around £1 million) on this stadium has got the council into a bad place.”

Deputy Tory leader Alistair Woodburn has called for Coun Woodburn to resign.

“Whatever happens be in no doubt that we are in this mess because of the leader’s mismanagement and she should hang her head in shame and resign. It’s all astonishing, crass management,” he alleged.

Coun Woodburn hit back: “It comes as no surprise that Coun Norwood prefers to make a cheap political point rather than take time to find out the facts. It is obviously more important for him to create a personal political platform rather than to work to aid the regeneration of Whitehaven and Copeland.

“This council has been working tirelessly to find a solution to the current issues and to make things happen for the stadium project in time for the RL World Cup.”

Yesterday Whitehaven RLFC chief executive Barry Richardson defended the council saying it had given every support to what he called “a massive scheme” with great community benefits.

Coun Moore said: “I want the best for Whitehaven RL and soccer, but how could anyone hope to go forward with such a scheme without securing the land and having a lease in place? It just doesn’t stack up financially.

“Now we’re being held to ransom. We can’t blame the Miners – we have handed this to them on a plate and they’ve been able to exploit us.

“This bit of vital land is a ransom strip.

“What it all points to is a lack of business acumen on the council’s part and poor leadership right across the project.”

But he claimed: “There is no doubt the stadium has fallen, it has stumbled along for a long time and there’s now an attempt to pick itself up with promises of World Cup matches. Time for a reality check: enough is enough.”

At next week’s full council meeting, Coun Moore will call for the project to be scrapped altogether and for the Energy Coast funding to be diverted to other schemes.

However if no deal is struck, other stadium access options could be considered.

Coun Phil Greatorex, executive member for regeneration, said: “We will know very soon if the project is likely to proceed in time for hosting the RL World Cup. If it is delayed I am adamant the partners will learn from this experience, maintain their resolve to overcome the obstacle of access and deliver a premier stadium with all the associated benefits it will bring to the area.

“We remain absolutely committed to deliver the Pow Beck stadium and ultimately the sports village concept.”

But Coun Moore says: “People connected to the RL club have told me that they didn’t really want a Super League standard stadium – what they wanted was money to improve the Recreation Ground, and this is what I am now recommending.”

This could be done from the £500,000 which BNFL originally gave towards the project. Some £300,000 has already been spent from this to pay for a stadium feasibility study.

Coun Moore went on: “I would expect Britain’s Energy Coast to top it up to the original amount.”

Whitehaven RLFC’s Barry Richardson, a member of the stadium steering group, said: “All the partners have worked hard to get to this stage and the council has been really supportive. We will stick together to do our utmost to make the stadium happen.

“We appreciate the Miners have to seek the best deal they can but in financial terms the goalposts were changed at a late stage.

“It was a shock to the partners. We hope they can be reasonable for the benefit of everybody.”

Have your say

david moore You should be ASHAMED

Posted by joooo on 21 March 2012 at 22:16

Ref: FOI/1385 Reply from - Mark Hughes Executive Director Economic Development 20 Oct 2010. Freedom of Information - NWDA's funding allocation of 'shortfall issues'-Thank you for your email dated 23 September 2010 requesting information in respect of West Cumberland Hospital and Whitehaven's Albion Square projects as follows:
a)the terms/conditions applied for providing this funding
b)with whom the specific 'provisional approval funding' was agreed and
c)when this was made.
The NWDA had been in preliminary discussions directly with the North Cumbria
University Hospitals NHS Trust over opportunities for supporting research and
development facilities at the new hospital. However those discussions had not
proceeded to a stage where the Trust had made a formal application for funding and
were halted as a result of Government's decisions to abolish Regional Development
Tom Tom FOI means Freedom of Information.I would still like an apology i.e.say sorry for your previous incorrect assertions and why not use your full name?

Posted by Arthur Millie on 18 March 2012 at 23:04

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