Labour and York City FC are calling on the Conservative–Liberal Democrat Coalition to come clean about its plans for the Community Stadium after mixed messages from the council’s leadership over the project’s future.
Conservative Council Leader Cller Chris Steward had done little to dampen speculation in recent days that a redesign of the stadium is being considered after stating publicly that ‘plans could change’, with some now believing current plans could be scaled back.
However, further public statements from Cller Steward, who said there was no plan to scale back the planned 8,000 seat stadium, and from Cller Nigel Ayre, who has confirmed that the Coalition will stick within the confines of the agreed procurement for the scheme – meaning no major changes can be made – have left observers unclear on which of these public statements is accurate.
Cller Janet Looker, Leader of the Labour Group, said: ‘Labour’s commitment first and foremost in this project is getting a community stadium delivered for York so we give a cautious welcome to recent comments that indicate no major changes to the current plan. But these statements conflict with a previous statement where it is claimed plans could change. We need to know the administration’s official position.
‘Concerns still remain around communication with the football and rugby clubs confirming they found out about the latest two month delay on the radio. That is quite staggering. The delay has still not been officially communicated by the council, consistent with the lack of communication on the project since last summer.
‘We agree with the chairman of Football Supporters Federation Malcolm Clarke when he said the Coalition need to ‘come clean’ with the sports clubs and the public about what its plans are.
‘Labour shares the concerns of York City Football Club about the lack of communication with partners in this project and a lack of transparency over what the current council’s plans are. Everyone apart from the council seems to be completely in the dark and that undermines public confidence in the scheme.
‘It is quite clear that any significant variation in the scheme will lead to years of delay, and I think, and very much hope, that the council’s leadership has finally accepted this.’
Should the Coalition parties decide to revisit the design and scale of the stadium project they will have to restart the procurement process, reach a new agreement with partners and gain new planning permission.
This would add years of delay and lost revenue, could involve huge costs in terminating current commercial agreements and present a significant risk of the project collapsing entirely.
Labour says it began to push the council for answers after the football club raised concerns with Labour councillors about a total lack of communication from the council. Labour councillors worked with the club to understand their concerns and seek assurances on timescale of the project
‘We will continue to ask questions and seek clarity on the progress of the project,’ said Cllr Looker.
‘We need to understand what options are being considered and what the risks are, and what financial exposure this opens the council up to. If the Coalition has alternative plans, it would be best served just getting them out on the table and explaining why. The silence until now has just led to anxiety among key project partners which hasn’t helped at all.’
Jason McGill, chairman of York City FC, said: ‘York City Football Club were becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of communication from City of York Council regarding the completion date of the new Community Stadium. Further concerns were brought to the fore by the departure from the stadium team of Tim Atkins, the Project Manager and Neil Wilford, the Project Officer.
‘Following this meeting, York Labour confirmed that they would ask the Council for clarity on the project and an up to date timescale for completion
‘I am grateful that York Labour raised the issue with the Council and that we now have assurances from Cller Steward and Cller Ayre that go some way to allay the club and the supporters’ fears for this vital community and sporting scheme.’