Hatters chief executive insists The Mall’s concerns have already been answered

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet

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Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet insists the club have already answered any objections raised by the owners of The Mall Luton after they registered a ‘reluctant’ challenge to the club’s plans to develop Power Court and Newlands Park last week.

Ken Ford, Capital and Regional’s PLC’s executive director, stated in this paper that the company appreciated how vital a new ground for the club was, but opposed the planning applications, saying they had ‘obvious risks,’ mainly surrounding traffic and damage to trade for the Mall’s shops.

We’re more than happy to get into the detail as we believe our application is completely robust, and we think everything we’re doing is genuinely for the good of the town.

Gary Sweet

Ford also felt the new stadium could be provided on a ‘more affordable site’, but in an exclusive interview with the News/Gazette, Sweet, along with development director Michael Moran admitted the club always anticipated their challenge and were happy to quell any fears supporters might have over the claims.

Sweet said: “Ken is right in identifying the risks as that’s something we do agree with.

“With any development of this scale there are obviously going to be risks, but they’re also risks we’ve already identified ourselves and I’m a little surprised he hasn’t necessarily read our applications more thoroughly because had he done that, I’m not sure he’d be raising those risks in the article.

“Everything that he raises we have answered in black and white, contained in the planning application.

“We’re more than happy to get into the detail as we believe our application is completely robust, and we think everything we’re doing is genuinely for the good of the town.

“We fully expected an objection from Capital and Regional, in fact Ken Ford told me personally he was going to object on more than one occasion.

“As he says in the article, he also wants to make these things happen, but we made an open invitation to try and work together.

“And other than us changing our Power Court scheme to be more accommodating to the Mall, nothing material has stemmed from that.

“It’s interesting, Capital and Regional say they want to make things happen in Luton.

“The way we see it, there’s not an awful lot that has happened in the town centre of Luton for too long and hence the reason why we felt it was a little bit of our duty to take our opportunity and step in.

“We’re all either proud Lutonians or from the area, so we wanted to get involved and create something unique and game-changing from this opportunity.

“I know there have been some improvements but if Capital and Regional were 100 per cent behind regeneration then I think there could have been more done in the Mall and its area to regenerate that in the last 11 years since they’ve owned it.

“For a whole generation, there hasn’t been enough regeneration in our town, and hence the reason why we’re thinking so ambitiously about the plans as if we don’t do it, who is going to?”

Sweet did go on to say that they were willing to work with Capital and General if they buy into what the club are trying to achieve.

He continued: “The article talks about Capital and Regional wanting to reinvest in Luton town and we’re delighted that they do because A, I think it needs it, but B, when our architects redrafted part of our Power Court scheme, it opens up a space for our two sites to potentially work with each other harmoniously.

“It’s an opportunity for them to effectively redevelop that side of the Mall on the church and university side which I believe has been a missed opportunity. The carbuncle of a concrete car park which people are faced with as they go past, we would absolutely welcome a new frontage to the Mall.

“That means that our two developments would engage much more positively and any time they or anyone wants to talk to us about that further we’d be happy to.”

Meanwhile, Moran felt there was also a slight sense of hypocrisy from Ford’s complaints about what he felt was a retail park at Newlands Park.

He added: “I first came across Ken Ford over 10 years ago. Capital and Regional had two businesses then, one was The Mall fund and one was The Junction fund.

“Ken ran both for a time. The Junction in its day was probably the biggest developer and owner of retail parks in the country and they were often set up without any restriction.

“They provided budget, efficient out of town space and those same retail parks are now across the country and were often developed without a significant strategy for regeneration.

“Ken has referred to our scheme as a retail park, but he doesn’t quite understand what we’re putting across, it’s not a retail park, it’s a million miles from that.

“A traditional retail park doesn’t deliver £250m a year to the local economy, a retail park doesn’t bring blue chip office occupiers and thousands of new jobs, or a wider sense of ambition for the whole town.

“So this is all a little bit of tongue in cheek, because Capital and Regional have made millions of pounds in profit over the years from the very traditional retail parks that Ken is actually outlining here.”

>> To read what both Gary Sweet and Michael Moran had to say about traffic issues, Power Court, Newlands Park and the 11,000 representations made to the council, check the website throughout the day, or pick up a copy of the paper on sale now.