Barnet FC Supporters' Trust Statement
Over the past two months the BFCST has, on separate occasions, met representatives from Barnet Council, and Tony Kleanthous, to obtain their different perspectives on the situation around Underhill. From the council, we met Pam Wharfe (Interim Director of Environment, Planning & Regeneration) and George Church (Principle Valuer - Property Services). We felt that only after holding both meetings would we be in a position to disseminate the facts in a balanced manner.
As outlined in the club's recent statement, there are two fundamental issues at stake here: the cricket club lease and the situation with Priory Grove. What follows is a brief synposis of their respective positions on these two matters.
1. THE LEASE
The current lease is with The Barnet Club Ltd (TBCL), the company that ran Barnet Cricket Club. It runs from 25th December 1982 to 24th December 2012. It covers the area immediately to the south of Underhill, including the car parking area and some of the fields.
Discussions have taken place for 2-3 years over the renewal of the lease for 95 years (ie. 2012-2107) on an open market value basis. (i.e. 125 years from 1982).
The Council obtained a land valuation from Savilles Chartered Surveyors. Barnet FC considered this valuation to be unreasonable. BFC asked for a valuation instead by local company Maunder Taylor, which was carried out in July 2011. This valuation was also unacceptable to BFC.
Barnet Council indicated that the 95 year lease for the 5 acre site would be in the ballpark of the price for a small flat.
The parties failed to agree terms. In such a situation, the tenant has the right to go to arbitration at the county court. The court may set the value but only for a lease of up to 15 years. Hence a 15 year offer was made, but this was not accepted.
When the Council are leasing out a site, the general presumption is for best value. The offer of a peppercorn rent was extended to Saracens for Copthall on the back of binding assurances, namely thirty hours community usage per week. Were TBCL to offer something similar with the land, they may potentially be able to offer a peppercorn rent too.
BFC deny that TBCL were offered a 95 year lease and say that they were only offered a 15 year lease at market value. This is unacceptable to BFC as it does not give the club security.
Land valuations were done first by Savilles, then Maunder Taylor. The council were reluctant to release the latter, something BFC challenged via Freedom of Information. They have now received the valuation, which is similar to the Saville's valuation.
BFC feel unhappy that they are being asked for a market rate when Saracens have been offered a peppercorn rent on Copthall.
2. PRIORY GROVE
Priory Grove runs behind the East Terrace and connects the car parking area in the land south of Underhill (the land leased to TBCL) with Westcombe Drive.
The lease south of Underhill is on land currently with The Barnet Club Limited (TBCL), the cricket club company. A license from the mid-90s provided rights of way on foot only' over Priory Grove.
In 2006, BFC put in a planning application for an extension of car parking to the south, including improving the emergency access from Priory Grove. The application was passed. However, during the process, it was highlighted that there was no legal right of vehicular access on Priory Grove.
They attempted to resolve the issue in 2006, but were unable to do so. BFC have used Priory Grove for vehicles since, though the Council have taken no enforcement action against TBCL. The Council are keen now to regularise the club's usage of Priory Grove to tidy up the issue.
For a nominal fee of £10 per year, the council are prepared to issue the club a vehicular license for Priory Grove.
BFC have used Priory Grove for vehicles for a number of years and believe they therefore have a right to continue to do so. The issue is not the level of fee but the principle and the precedent that this sets. BFC have also said that under their license, while staff would be allowed access, supporters would not be.
Any Barnet supporter with any questions, comments or concerns on this issue, or any other, is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 15 December 2011
BFC say their reluctance to purchase a vehicular license for Priory Grove it not about the cost of the license, but of the precedent this sets. The club feel that purchasing a license sets a precedent that means future purchasers of the Underhill site may also be required to apply for a license, which may reduce the value of the site if prospective buyers were not able to gain a license.
BFC also object to the fact that the Council are only offering a vehicular license for club staff, and not other visitors.
It is worth noting that both Monday's meeting with Tony Kleanthous and last month's meeting with Barnet Council were amicable and constructive, and the BFCST thank both parties for their time and openness.
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