The chairman of Luton Town Supporters’ Trust has warned Luton Council is in danger of labelled “the bad guys” due to ongoing delays in getting a planning decision on the club’s new stadium and Newlands Park development.
Speaking to the LutonNews yesterday, Trust chairman Tony Murray joined Hatters’ chief executive Gary Sweet in expressing anger at the drawn-out saga of getting the schemes before the council’s development control committee for a verdict.
The Hatters submitted a double proposal for a new 17,500 ground at Power Court along with an enabling mixed use scheme on land adjacent to Junction 10 of the M1, to include offices, retail space, a hotel and leisure amenities back in August last year.
It was initially hoped that Luton Borough Council would put an officers’ report on the applications before councillors in early 2017.
The date for such a decision then moved to early summer, before in June, deputy council leader, Cllr Sian Timoney, revealed that the officers’ report was 9/10ths complete and the matter would be likely to go before committee before the end of this year.
After Luton chief executive Gary Sweet wrote in his programme notes last Tuesday about his frustrations with the “unfathomable” delays, the council responded with a statement on Wednesday evening stating that a date for a likely special development control meeting should be known by April.
But a clearly irritated Mr Murray told the Luton News that the process was taking far too long.
“I think it’s somebody in the council worried about Capital and Regional [owners of the Mall Luton]. That’s the only reason it can be.
“I am quite annoyed that one corporate objection can hold something up when clearly it is what the people of Luton, not just the supporters, want.”
“It’s very frustrating. It can make the council appear to be the bad guys. People are running out of patience. They will turn on the council, when the bad guys are Capital & Regional.
“I can understand they really don’t want to give Capital & Regional ammunition to get to a judicial review. Are the council worried about funding that?”
Mr Murray said the Trust had a very good relationship with the club’s owners and was regularly asking for the latest updates on behalf of its members.
He said he had been told the club was being asked for more documents, and, having provided them, had then been asked for more.
But he questioned why the council needed to be given papers relating to the cross funding of Power Court and Newlands Park before it could feel in a position to determine the planning application.
“Grant planning, but with a proviso on funding if they have to,” he said. “2020 have told us they have given everything they have been asked for.”
He added: “This meeting in April is just for the development control committee to decide on a date, so it could be June/July before a decision. I accept it is a complex planning application but this is now getting on for 18 months to two years.
Last week’s council’s statement read: “We completely understand and share some of the frustrations about the delays with the process, many of which have been outside the control of the council and the club.
“Our planning officers have been meeting with the club every fortnight to discuss the status of their applications and support them with the information they still need to submit to us about the funding of the two schemes.
“This funding assessment, along with a final technical report, needs to be reviewed by independent experts.
“We expect that this will take about a month and assuming these outstanding matters are addressed, we should be in a position at the end of April to announce the date of the special Development Control meeting where the applications will be considered.
“The council has been committed to finding the club a suitable location for a new stadium for a long time and if LTFC plans were to be approved by the independent planning committee, the developments would positively transform a derelict and unsightly piece of land and undeveloped site, creating new jobs and opportunities for local people.
“We would like to thank the fans and residents for their patience. We know it’s taking a long time but this is not unusual for applications of this size.
“Please be assured the council will continue working closely with the club to ensure the outstanding issues are resolved.”
The day before Mr Sweet had written in the Crawley matchday programme: “We fully understand and appreciate that planning officers must be meticulous in their considerations but we have been very patient, as helpful as any developer could be and have been swift in responding to any questions or challengers.
“I’m beginning to find it unfathomable how something so positive and already detailed can take so long.
“We are now in the final technical throes of the process, there is little we can do or say other than wait.
“Naturally we are working tirelessly (and sometimes sleeplessly) to respond to the various technical cross-examinations thrown our way which of course we’re able to and happy to respond to.
“Indeed, there is very little now we can possibly answer given everything should now have been reviewed in detail, other than one small but important final document which can only be issued once everything else has been.”
Mr Sweet had urged the council to make a planning decision before March 13, with the club attending a premier real estate event in France, where it hoped to strike key deals relating to their schemes.