‘Significant’ obstacle to Hatters’ Power Court stadium plan just days from being overcome

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Luton Town has revealed that it is on the verge of removing a “significant” obstacle to developing a football stadium at Power Court.

In its submission to a Government inspector who is examining the draft Luton Local Plan through hearings today and tomorrow, the Hatters say they are just days away from completing the deal to purchase the derelict site.

Architect Manuel Nogueira (left) and Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet share a joke as the lid is lifted on LTFC's plans for Power Court this summer

Architect Manuel Nogueira (left) and Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet share a joke as the lid is lifted on LTFC's plans for Power Court this summer

The club has told the inspector: “The reality is that Luton Town FC is the only landowner even close to being in a position to realise the development of this important site.

“The club has of today (2 December 2016) exchanged contracts with British Land to acquire its entire interest at Power Court. Completion will take place on 16 December 2016. The purchase will remove a significant impediment to delivery.”

In August, the club submitted a planning application for a new 17,500-seater stadium at Power Court where there would also be a music/entertainment venue, cafés/bars/restaurants, 500+ apartments, and hotel facilities.

A second proposal, for a 40-acre Newlands Park scheme at M1 Junction 10 for offices, retail space and leisure amenities will help the Hatters finance the Power Court scheme.

An overview of the plans for Newlands Park

An overview of the plans for Newlands Park

The existing Local Plan has Power Court allocated for mixed use development, including around 600 homes, and comparison and covenience retail space, and provision for sport, leisure and entertainment.

The Hatters argue the policy “allows for the potential provision of a football stadium at Power Court as part of a town centre mix” and add Luton Borough Council has recognised that the identification of the Land South of Stockwood Park site as a stadium location is “unsound”.

The club’s representations to the inspector add: “Power Court is the most suitable site to accommodate a stadium as part of a mix of uses. It is the only site within or close to the town centre, which is the focal point of the local community.

“Power Court is also the most accessible site, given its proximity to the main modal transport hub and it is by far the most

suitable in terms of its potential to deliver a place shaping development which would be a catalyst for regeneration in

Luton.”

Capital and Regional, owners of the Mall Luton, have this week also put forward suggestions for the development of Power Court and the town centre, but the Hatters cast doubt on the viability of those ideas.

They say: “Whether or not the stadium is provided at Power Court, it is not appropriate to allocate this site to accommodate all of Luton’s identified comparison retail need. There will not be sufficient space available and it is unlikely that a retail dominated scheme would deliver a viable development given the site constraints and abnormal costs which are acknowledged by the council.

“It is acknowledged that the site is challenging for development. It has been largely derelict for over 13 years despite efforts to bring forward development. Retail development on its own is not viable or deliverable. The failure to develop the site by previous owners well-versed in delivering difficult town centre sites is evidence of this.

“There are significant abnormal costs associated with re-directing and opening up the River Lea and the need to relocate a sub-station. However, Luton Town FC believes that the site is deliverable for a new football stadium and mix of uses as evidenced in its planning application in respect of the site, albeit with elements of cross-subsidy.

“It is important to note that the nature of a football club means that the normal and usual viability criteria and funding arrangements are less in play.”

And the club makes it clear that it has dismissed any likelihood of a stadium being located near Junction 10, on a site currently allocated for a stadium in the existing Local Plan - and call for the allocation to be removed.

They say: “Luton Town FC, as landowner and operator, will not deliver a stadium on the land south of Stockwood Park. The

reasons for this are set out elsewhere in these proceedings but include the spatial need for the club to be centred on the community it serves, the absence of sustainability in terms of a community use at Junction 10 and the absence of a viable business case for the development.

The club says it is “undeliverable” and is not a fall back position “even if the current planning application being considered by Luton Borough Council, to provide the stadium at Power Court, is refused”.

It adds: “The council needs to reconsider the future of this allocation site either by withdrawing the Plan or by undertaking a speedy review. In any event, the identification of the site as a suitable and deliverable stadium site must be removed.”

With the deadline for representations passed, the stage 3 draft Local Plan hearing sessions are taking place today and tomorrow at the Riverside Suite, Venue 360, and on January 10-13 at the UK Centre for Carnival Arts.

The hearings will generally take the form of a roundtable discussion led by inspector Jeremy Youle and will not involve the formal presentation of cases by participants or cross-examination.