A lot of finger pointing and blame sharing has happened over the last few days and I, as I am sure are the many fans who have contacted me, feel that the point about the stadium is being missed: it is not about focusing on what went wrong and who is to blame, but about what the obstacles are and what can we do to fix them so that the community get the stadium they so desperately need. I absolutely share my frustration with the Stadium Trust, Wakefield Trinity, the fans and the wider community.
Since my election campaign I have been having regular meetings with the Stadium Trust (three in the last three months alone), I have consulted the House of Commons Library on the matter, I have written to different stakeholders on several occasions and back in 2015 I aimed to organise multi-stakeholder events to unite everyone and to find a solution for the people of Wakefield. Invites were sent to the Leader of Wakefield Council, Councillor Peter Box, officials from Wakefield Council, Yorkcourt management (the developer), both the Stadium Trust and Wakefield Trinity representatives and even the Bank of Ireland.
The Council have written their version of events here but as usual, the Council have swiftly engaged in a blame game, brushing past the key points and failing to provide a way forward:
- They argue that ‘The Council is not a party to, or a beneficiary of, the Unilateral Undertaking’ but how is it not in the Council’s benefit to have a stadium built for the community without the full financial cost? Unilateral or not, the Council were given an agreement to build a stadium as a result of developing former Green Belt land and this should be regarded as beneficial and precious by the Council, not something they have no interest in. Furthermore, under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, unilateral undertakings are enforced in the same way as a bilateral Section 106 so the Council do play a role in the matter as confirmed by the House of Commons Library in my investigations.
- The Council have shifted the blame onto the developer by saying ‘it is entirely up to the developer how quickly they bring forward development, or if the development is built at all’. It also passes the buck to the Stadium Trust by saying ‘the Unilateral Undertaking clearly states that the Trust are the 'facilitators' for the delivery of the stadium’. Does this mean that the Council do not care that Green Belt land has been taken out of the Green Belt to build a stadium? Are they arguing that they do not care about a stadium being built for the people of Wakefield? Why is the Council acting so stubbornly, failing to build bridges and failing to even want to play a role at all let alone an enforcement role on the people’s Green Belt land? This is after all a stadium for the people of Wakefield and the Council will benefit from the stadium being built just as the community will.
- The Council says that it ‘has never suggested that it will not enforce [the obligations to build a stadium]’ but it approved a 22,300sqm facility without ensuring it counted towards said obligations. It says that ‘even if the 22,300sqm facility had contributed to the 60,000sqm B8 development identified in the Unilateral Undertaking it would not have triggered the development of a stadium’ yet the point is that it would have helped by over a third of the requirement. The land was taken out of Green Belt land to build a stadium, not for the profit of developers alone and it is shocking that the Council are failing to protect the assets of the people of Wakefield.
- The Council even moves to bring the Stadium Trust into disrepute closing their statement by saying that ‘further compromising progress, is the resignation of the Trust Chair, Sir Rodney Walker and the possibility of the establishment of another trust’. All along, the only aim of the Stadium Trust has been to have a stadium built. This rhetoric not only undermines the Stadium Trust’s incredible efforts to pull this project off the ground but it is an insult to the thousands of fans who have worked with them. Why is the Council so desperate to blame everyone else?
This blame game must stop and the Council must step up to help the people of Wakefield.
It is also worth taking a look at the actions of the developer Yorkcourt Properties Limited (Yorkcourt). The group continue to have ownership of former Green Belt land, with a valid planning application to develop it by means of a business plan which originally included a stadium for the people of Wakefield. They are also the company who agreed, in principle, to fund this stadium with the community giving up a piece of precious Green Belt and, as owners of the site with a successful planning application, Yorkcourt are the only ones who have the permission and ability to build on this site. Yet, they continue to fail to build a stadium for the people of Wakefield.
Why? This is a question for Yorkcourt but with Wakefield Council granting permission for a development on former Green Belt land without linking it to the 60,000m2 condition issued by the Secretary of State to build a stadium, the Council have signalled that perhaps Yorkcourt can develop this former Green Belt site without the need to build a stadium. It is interesting that 5 years were allowed by the Secretary of State for ‘resolved matters’ and this date will arrive on 5th December 2017. At this point the current application expires and a fresh application will need to be submitted which could even see the stadium being off the cards. This has the potential to make the developers millions of pounds in profit as they could develop the land without the need to build a stadium which would save them c£13m. Given the signals from Wakefield Council perhaps these are the developer’s intentions.
As I mentioned earlier, I have tried many times to bring the parties together and once again I call on the Council and the developer to stop playing the blame game with the people of Wakefield and to come together to finally deliver. I propose that a public meeting is held between the Stadium Trust, the developer Yorkcourt and the Council where the public can attend so that everyone can come together to finally agree a way forward for the benefit of everyone: profit for the developer, new infrastructure at little or no cost to the Council and above all a stadium for the people of Wakefield.
I will to write to all three parties to ask them to join myself and the people of Wakefield in this meeting. If you would like to add your signature in support, please follow this link.
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