Exclusive: Sheffield Council accused of bias in World Cup venue bid

SHEFFIELD City Council has been accused of being biased in favour of supporting Sheffield Wednesday's bid to become a World Cup venue ahead of their city rivals, Sheffield United.

The Blades have formally applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the way the council granted the Owls planning permission to redevelop their Hillsborough ground and specifically cited alleged bias on the part of the local authority.

The council has hit back and called United's claim "apparently gratuitous and unsubstantiated".

In December, the Football Association chose Hillsborough ahead of United's Bramall Lane ground as one of the potential World Cup venues should England be chosen to host the competition in 2018.

The decision raised eyebrows in some quarters after United had seemingly spent significantly more time and effort developing the club's bid, including lengthy discussions with the council, while Wednesday, undermined by boardroom upheaval, had come forward with proposals at much shorter notice.

Although the FA made the choice, neither club's bid would have been acceptable without valid planning permission.

Both clubs received planning approval last autumn after each had submitted plans to develop their stadium to the required 45,000 capacity in August. But United believe the relatively late emergence of Wednesday's bid calls into question how the council could speedily grant planning permission.

Court papers submitted by United outline three separate areas in which the council allegedly "acted improperly and unreasonably in the exercise of its duties as a public authority."

The Blades argue the council granted planning approval despite Wednesday submitting insufficient supporting information, including a failure to provide either a transport or planning assessment of the impact of redeveloping Hillsborough.

The council is also alleged to have failed to comply with planning procedures by not providing a full enough explanation of why it had granted approval. It is also accused of incorrectly allowing Wednesday to come back at a later date with detailed plans for a new roof on the Kop end even though the club was applying for and received full and detailed planning approval.

United's High Court submission concludes: "For these reasons, the decision to grant the permission was not only flawed and should be quashed but also demonstrates the bias shown by the defendant in favour of the interested party (Sheffield Wednesday) and its proposals." But a defence submitted by the council says United's claim is "devoid of merit".

The council contends the application was dealt with professionally and had met with negligible opposition following wide consultation.

It insists Wednesday's plans were relatively straightforward and did not require either a transport or planning assessment.

The grounds provided for granting approval were similarly considered sufficient and the council said it was "everyday practice" to set a condition on the approval such as that set for detailed design of the new roof.

The council submission states: "The claimant (United) does not suggest that the interested party intends to build an unsafe stand or how it could conceivably be affected by or interested in the detailed design of the means of roof support in a football stand four miles away from its own property."

The council also adds that United are not entitled to seek judicial review as the club lacks "sufficient interest" in Wednesday's application because Bramall Lane is four miles from Hillsborough and United had not objected to approval being granted.

A judge is expected to make an initial decision on whether to grant leave for a full court hearing next month.