LAST week the Coventry Telegraph, having reported the news of the offer to buy Brandon Stadium, published reaction from the owners.
The statement is reproduced in full below, followed by our reaction:
A spokesman said: “We understand there has been a great deal of interest in the site over the past few years; during that time we have listened closely to feedback from the Council’s planning officers and the local residents in considering the options for the site. “We do not believe that operating a speedway stadium on this site is financially viable. "But, crucially, it simply would not be deemed acceptable in planning terms. "We hope to be able to present some revised plans for the site shortly, which will reflect the feedback we have received from the Council and community. “We are very keen to ensure any future redevelopment of the site is sustainable, deliverable and handled sensitively to deliver as much local benefit as possible to the surrounding communities. “We are aware of the incidents of trespassing on the site and have been working closely with our security advisors and, where appropriate, the police to secure the site. We will continue to liaise with all relevant local stakeholders on this issue, and would urge people to please stay out of the site for their own safety and to respect our neighbours.”
In many ways, the most striking aspect of the spin provided by Investin’s PR company, Thirty4/7 Communications, is not what it says – but what it does not.
Specifically, despite it being supposedly a reaction to our revelation that there is an offer on the table to buy the stadium and re-instate it for sporting use, the statement completely avoids any mention of this offer!
Is it the position of Investin that they would rather this offer was not widely publicised, as it defeats the narrative that no interest exists in running the site for sport?
Investin and those acting for them cannot simply make things up and expect them to go unchallenged. All parties should be aware by now that whenever a statement is made on behalf of Investin, we will scrutinise it in detail and raise any relevant points. Whilst the current statement is relatively brief, it gives rise to a number of issues which we detail below.
A spokesman said: “We understand there has been a great deal of interest in the site over the past few years; during that time we have listened closely to feedback from the Council’s planning officers and the local residents in considering the options for the site.
The “great deal of interest in the site” is a masterpiece of understatement, as this has become arguably the most controversial case in Rugby Council history, with an unprecedented response and explosion of negativity towards the plans from all areas of society.
This relates both to the closure of the iconic stadium – which was bought in the first place as a purely speculative action - and also the eviction of two major sports which brought enjoyment, business and prestige to the area, with no scheme proposed to bring them back to their rightful place.
We are assuming here that the feedback received from Council planning officers is purely based around giving technical advice on policy matters relating to the planning application.
The local residents have never been given a serious voice by the developers. Feedback from the initial planning exhibition in October 2014 was never publicised, and the reaction to the subsequent event in October 2017 was overwhelmingly negative.
Local residents are unable to contact the developers direct, as they have absolutely no idea who they are; hence the only official feedback from the residents comes from the Brandon & Bretford Neighbourhood Plan, adopted as recently as May 2019, which clearly states:
“There is a community wish that the site should be retained as a celebrated sports facility for speedway and stock car racing…The community is not persuaded by the arguments that it is not or cannot be made viable at its location.”
“We do not believe that operating a speedway stadium on this site is financially viable.
It is remarkable that this continues to be a story spun by the developers, because the failure of this argument is one of the key reasons why the original planning application has been so spectacularly unwelcome.
For the avoidance of any doubt we do not, and have never, disputed that operating a speedway stadium on the site would not be viable. But this completely misses the point that Brandon was not solely a speedway stadium – it was, since 1954, also a stock car stadium.
The staging of regular Formula 1 Stock Car events attracting large crowds supplemented the regular week-to-week running of speedway (which in the latter years contributed rent towards the venue), and the combined effect of the two made the stadium viable. Evidence has already been provided to the Council proving this.
There is documentation that stock car racing was to be prevented from operating during the course of any short-term deal to extend the stadium’s sporting use – which, in itself, would have been used to ‘confirm’ the case that as a speedway stadium only, it was unviable.
We remind everyone of these words from the Independent Report, commissioned by Rugby Council to directly assess the differences between the planning application and the representations of the Campaign Group: “We are not convinced that the case has been made that Coventry Stadium is surplus to requirements as argued by the applicant.”
Investin and Thirty4/7 Communications cannot simply ignore the findings of this report, commissioned by Rugby Council, merely because they do not like its conclusions.
"But, crucially, it simply would not be deemed acceptable in planning terms.
This line is bizarre as it provides no context whatsoever, and it suggests that Thirty4/7 Communications have absolutely no understanding of the case on which they have been called upon to advise.
Taken at face value, it is ludicrous to suggest that a stadium which operated perfectly successfully as a sports venue for 90 years would now not be acceptable in planning terms – especially given that it still exists, with established use permitting motorsport 24/7, 365 days of the year!
The critical point is there is no planning permission in place for a change of use from a sports stadium, and this is hardly surprising as the site lies within the Green Belt. Why on earth, in that case, would running a speedway/stox stadium not be “acceptable in planning terms”?
We can only presume that it would “not be deemed acceptable” solely on the part of the greedy, speculative developers, purely on the basis that if the stadium was still operating as a sports venue, it would have even less chance of securing planning permission and a change of use into housing development.
If this is their stance, they can be assured that the opposition will simply continue for as long as it takes because the need for a stadium to accommodate both Speedway and Stock Car Racing is as strong now as it ever has been.
"We hope to be able to present some revised plans for the site shortly, which will reflect the feedback we have received from the Council and community.
This appears to be the first public acceptance that the initial planning application, which was submitted well over two-and-a-half years ago, will not be taken to planning committee in its present form, as it has no chance of being successful – despite the various opportunities which have already been given to “improve” it.
It should be remembered that this Green Belt site does not appear on the Rugby Local Plan for development; moreover, the independent Inspector, after visiting the site and studying the information, declared the initial draft Local Plan unsound without including additional protection for sports and recreational facilities, with specific reference to Brandon Stadium.
The Inspector commented that the Council needed to start from the basis of safeguarding provision, in line with the general policy for sport and recreation buildings.
On the subject of “revised plans” we await news of the authors of these documents, as we have recently been advised by planning consultants Framptons that they no longer act for Investin – this after over six years of working on the project.
During those six years, there was an initial scheme presented at Binley Woods Village Hall; a failed attempt to get the proposed redevelopment onto the Local Plan; and then a completely revised scheme presented as a planning application which, despite being submitted in January 2018 has still not gone to committee and is unlikely ever to do so.
The decision to submit the planning application and thereby redevelop the stadium was therefore made without a Sports Needs Assessment or any consultation with motorsports bodies, described in the Independent Report as “an omission, and would have painted a different picture in terms of needs and outcomes.”
That decision also conflicts with national planning policy, thus confirming Investin’s approach has been flawed from the start. As it now appears Investin are preparing what will effectively be their third attempt with another application, the question must be asked: how many bites of the cherry should they be allowed to take?
“We are very keen to ensure any future redevelopment of the site is sustainable, deliverable and handled sensitively to deliver as much local benefit as possible to the surrounding communities.
When assessing the aspiration of delivering “local benefit” we would simply advise everyone to look at Investin’s record on site security. This suggests they will spend as little as possible to maximise their profits. There is no evidence they really care for the community, which is not really surprising given it is a company registered in the secretive tax haven of Jersey.
“We are aware of the incidents of trespassing on the site and have been working closely with our security advisors and, where appropriate, the police to secure the site.
These incidents have been ongoing for over three-and-half years, and the site is still not secure. There are numerous ways in which the stadium can be entered, and this is entirely down to the owners’ lack of security since taking possession in January 2017.
We have no idea who the “security advisors” are, and repeat the fact that Investin’s contract with VPS, which involved daily visits to the site, was terminated in May of this year with no replacement facility put in place.
"We will continue to liaise with all relevant local stakeholders on this issue, and would urge people to please stay out of the site for their own safety and to respect our neighbours.”
So far, it could be argued that continuing to “liaise with all relevant local stakeholders on this issue” has not been an unqualified success. We remind everyone of Investin’s record since taking possession of this site:
They reported the previous owner for theft, only for it to be concluded that there was no case to answer;
They failed to secure the stadium resulting in gypsy incursions, major damage, and a Warning Notice being issued – which they failed to comply with, resulting in the subsequent issuing of a Community Protection Notice (CPN);
They challenged the CPN and then settled on the day of the court hearing (meanwhile, two more gypsy incursions and a turnstile fire took place);
They have breached this CPN countless times;
They have no defence regarding the security of the site – the timeline of pictures since December 2016 offers unequivocal proof;
They have used the vandalised state and cost of reinstatement one of the key reasons which prohibits a return of the sports – a theory blown out of the water by the current offer on the site, made by a highly respected and entirely credible businessman;
They have produced a planning application and other subsequent documents which have been ridiculed due to the errors and untruths within, despite being given repeated opportunities to provide revisions and additional information;
Their application was considered by an Independent consultant who concurred with the vast majority of our representations and firmly concluded that they had failed to make the case for redevelopment under Paragraph 97a of National Planning Policy Framework;
They failed to get on the Rugby Local Plan, and the Plan was declared unsound with the Inspector asking for policies to protect the stadium to be strengthened;
They parted company with their previous PR representatives; and in the last few weeks, their planning consultants.
Unfortunately, many of the items above would not be directly considered by the Planning Officer in the event that an application is taken to Committee, as they would not be deemed relevant purely in planning terms.
However, this list surely IS relevant because it provides a very clear insight into the morals and ethics – or lack of them – which have been on display from the owners ever since the forced closure of the stadium and the eviction of two sports.