Luton chairman: Power Court green light is the ‘most important result in all our living memories’

Luton chairman David Wilkinson described the decision by Luton Borough Council to approve planning permission for the Hatters to build a new ground at Power Court as the ‘most important result in all our living memories.’

Last Wednesday, the council planning committee gave Town the green light for the 17,500 all-seated stadium and other mixed-use facilities at Power Court.

Hatter chairman David Wilkinson

Hatter chairman David Wilkinson

Although thrilled by the outcome, with the Newlands Park decision to come, Wilkinson wasn’t getting carried away, as writing in his programme notes, he said: “We are delighted that after such an extensive and thorough process the committee have made such a momentous and historic decision for not only the club, but the town as a whole.

"This is without a doubt the most important result in all our living memories.

“However, it is too early to start celebrating, because the away leg is yet to come and we also need a positive result then to make it all happen.”

On what needs to done to the land before Luton can even consider building a ground there, Wilkinson continued: “It has been largely derelict for over a dozen years, is contaminated due to its former uses, has the River Lea culverted under it and has an electricity substation in the middle of it.

It is also a well-known fact that when an area is derelict or run-down it infects its surroundings and makes the whole area less attractive to investors, residents and businesses.

"There are many examples of stadia injecting life into formerly ignored spaces.

"Before we get to even think about making it a place that people want to inhabit and visit, we must make it workable.

"We have to decontaminate the site, move the sub-station, which otherwise would be under the away end, and we want to bring the River Lea out from undercroft as a feature between us and St Mary’s church.

"Our town was named after the river, so isn’t it right that it should be part of the environment and a place for people to enjoy?

"If any of you know the recent developments at St Pancras Square or Granary Square in London, I can imagine people sitting on the banks of the river with views of the church, just as they do by the Grand Union Canal there.

"A vibrant welcoming place for residents, students and visitors to enjoy.

"Previous owners have failed to develop the site, but they weren’t Lutonians with a committed dream, and simply made decisions purely on commerciality

"They were corporations, which had to be profit motivated before anything else. When Gary (Sweet, chief executive) sold us the vision ten years ago this was, alongside success on the pitch, it!

However, to achieve Power Court, the Hatters must get the go-ahead from the council to build a mixed use scheme at Newlands Park to help finance the new stadium.

That goes before the development control committee in the near future and on just why Newlands Park is so important for the club’s plans, Wilkinson added: “We believe that we have a unique opportunity, but it will be expensive – much more expensive than a regular site. The key that opens the door is Newlands Park.

“It is THE gateway to Luton. Millions of people travel down Airport Way from Junction 10 every month and this land and the airport is what they see.

“We believe that a high-quality mixed-use development will become a modern destination for people to work, shop, eat, watch a film or have fun. Why should we have to drive 25 miles to do that?

“The profit from Newlands will be used to build the stadium and make our club sustainable, but without it, it will be very difficult, if not impossible

"Gary, Mike (Moran, development director) and the development team have done a marvellous job to get us this far, so let us hope and pray that they get the opportunity to finish it for the benefit of us all."