Council to buy back soccer site

THE future of Scarborough Football Club's former home is now back in the hands of Scarborough Council after its leader agreed to buy the land back following Boro's financial downfall.

When the council sold the club the Seamer Road site in 1960 it included a covenant restricting the use of ground to sport – so that the football team would not be able to sell the land on at a big profit to a housebuilder.

This covenant was to prove the stumbling block in the debt-

ridden club's plans to sell the McCain Stadium to fund a move to a new home. Council leaders refused to lift the restriction because officers feared Boro's liabilities would swallow up the ground without saving the club.

Scarborough FC was wound up at Leeds High Court in June owing 2.1m to creditors, plus a further 400,000 costs which had been run up before the organisation finally went bust.

Speculation has since surroun-ded the site's future – including bringing football back there next season or using it to help George Pindar Community Sports College at Eastfield develop a facility in its own grounds.

But nothing could be decided while the land was in the hands of the liquidators. Scarborough Council had written into the 1960 deal the right to first refusal if it came back on the market again at a "fair market price".

The council had only a month to make up its mind over whether to accept the offer – hence council leader Tom Fox took the decision himself on Wednesday. News of this was embargoed until yesterday to give the liquidator chance to receive the town hall's reply.

The council said the decision would ensure the purposes for which the restrictive covenants were placed on the football ground would be maintained.

Coun Fox added: "I am grateful for the advice and support I have been given by fellow councillors and officers and the immense public encouragement that there has been throughout.

"The hard work now begins as taking the decision was the easy bit. We have much to do and there will be some tough decisions to take as we seek to move things on. Ownership of the McCain Stadium is critical if we are to keep all options open. I feel good about what can happen."

Now that the authority has said it will buy the land it will have to negotiate with liquidator Begbies Traynor what is a "fair market price". Under local government regulations – because of the exceptional circumstances – it is then allowed to take out an affordable loan to meet it.

The price is going to depend on the outcome of a legal battle between the two sides as the land is obviously worth more without the ban on building houses on it.

The liquidator will now appeal against the covenant to the Lands Tribunal. But the council says its legal advice is there is a fighting chance that the decision will go the council's way and the covenant will stay.

Officials had already warned that had the council turned down the chance to buy the land someone else could then have bought it – probably wanting to build houses on it.

The council would then have had to fight anyway to defend the covenant with the risk that if it failed the land would have been lost to sport and local people forever.

Although Boro have been consigned to history the resort has a new fledgling side called Scarborough Athletic.

Supporters club chairman Craig Patton said: "We would welcome a return to the McCain Stadium because there needs to be football in the town."