Wakefield Council hits back in rugby league stadium dispute

THE row between Wakefield District Community Trust and the city council over the lack of progress in building a community stadium has escalated.

Michael Carter and Chris Brereton
Michael Carter and Chris Brereton

Trust member Chris Brereton claimed in The Yorkshire Post this week that the council could end up in court for failing to enforce a Section 106 agreement on the proposed 12,000-seater ground on reclassified green belt land at Newmarket, Wakefield.

The council has now issued a 1,200 word statement defending their position, responding to the criticism, insisting they were not at fault and it was the responsibility of the Trust and developer to deliver the stadium.

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However, the Trust responded with an official 2,000-word statement detailing exactly why it believes the council has made crucial errors meaning not a single brick has been laid on the site five years on from a legal agreement being made.

The saga dates back to 2012 when the Secretary of State determined the green belt land could be reclassified for development, only if the developer –Yorkcourt Properties – handed 35 acres to the Community Trust and contributed £9m towards the cost of building the stadium, where Wakefield Trinity hope to be anchor tenants.

The Council accepted a ‘unilateral undertaking’ rather than ‘multi-party’ agreement that stated that if occupants are found for 60,000 sq m of space at the site, an obligation to provide the stadium is triggered. The second condition was that the council would then put £2m forwards to the project, something they say has since been withdrawn.

The council said: “Currently neither of these trigger points, which would require the stadium to be built, have been reached. It is entirely up to the developer how quickly they bring forward development, or if the development is built at all.

“Until the point that the triggers, outlined in the Unilateral Undertaking are met, the council is unable to force the developer to build a stadium.”

The Trust responded with points highlighting how it believes the council erred, particularly in allowing planning permission for a 40,000 sq m cold store facility (Newcold) on the site not to count towards the trigger point.

While demonstrating their frustration with the council’s statement, the Trust added: “If a new multi-party agreement is drawn up and signed that recognises that the floorspace of Newcold contribute towards the 60,000m2 trigger and the Council is prepared to reinstate the £2m financial contribution then this whole matter can be resolved amicably.”

The statements

Michael Carter, Wakefield Trinity chairman and a director of the community trust

“Once again the council has spectacularly missed the point that this community stadium was promised to the citizens of Wakefield on the back of green belt land being lifted out of the green belt for private development. “At no point were current members of the stadium trust aware that the Newcold site would not count towards the Unilateral Agreement. “The council is the beneficiary of the UU undertaking. “The community trust will comment further and more fully when we’ve had time to digest the council’s comments and take legal advice.”

Wakefield Council:

We have a long, proud history of top-quality sport in the Wakefield district and Wakefield Council is committed to supporting it to thrive.

Since 1984 the Council has provided Wakefield Trinity Rugby League Club (the Club) with financial assistance in excess of £1.6m in the form of guarantees, ground works and amounts written-off by the Council within Company Voluntary Arrangements entered into by Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in 2000 and again in 2004.

In July 2009 the Council’s Cabinet offered land assets to the value of £2m (subject to criteria) to both Wakefield District Community Trust and Castleford Tigers on the understanding that both clubs are in the Super League and need to upgrade facilities to meet Rugby Football League criteria. In December 2010 the criteria hasn’t been met and the Council chose to extend its £2m funding offer to July 2011. In July 2011 the criteria still had not been met and the funding offer expired.

In December 2012, planning permission for a new stadium was granted by the Secretary of State – a decision that the Council welcomed. The permission was accompanied by a Unilateral Undertaking. This document was signed by Yorkcourt Properties Ltd (the developer) and two other landowners and was accepted by the Government’s Planning Inspector. It was not signed by Wakefield Council.

The Council asked for, and would have preferred, a Multi-lateral Section 106 agreement, signed by a number of parties including the Council. This would have enabled the local authority to negotiate clear funding streams and tighter triggers for the development of a stadium. The decision to accept the developer’s Unilateral Undertaking was that of the Planning Inspector and ultimately formed part of the planning approval issued by the Conservative MP Eric Pickles in his capacity as Secretary of State.

The Council is not a party to, or a beneficiary of, the Unilateral Undertaking. The persons liable to the obligation are those persons with interests in the land only – namely Oldroyd and Sons, Clysdale Bank and Yorkcourt Properties Ltd.

The Unilateral Undertaking obliges the developer to let build contracts for the stadium once two trigger point are reached.

These are a funding agreement, to the value of £2m, is reached by, Wakefield and District Community Trust (the Trust), Wakefield Trinity and Wakefield Council as a collective or individually to contribute to the cost of building a stadium.

And 60,000 square meters of B8 floor space is occupied on the development site.

Currently neither of these trigger points, which would require the stadium to be built, have been reached.

It is entirely up to the developer how quickly they bring forward development, or if the development is built at all. Until the point that the triggers, outlined in the Unilateral Undertaking are met, the Council is unable to force the developer to build a stadium.

Once the triggers have been met, the Council, as the Planning Authority, is fully committed to taking all legal measures at its disposal to ensure that the developer fulfils the obligations in the Unilateral Undertaking. The Council has never suggested that it will not enforce these obligations.

The Unilateral Undertaking clearly states that the Trust are the ‘facilitators’ for the delivery of the stadium.

Since planning permission was granted, Wakefield Council has been actively working to attract private sector investment and development at Newmarket to help achieve the 60,000 square metres of B8 Warehousing and distribution floor space identified in the Unilateral Undertaking.

The Trust commenced regular meetings to facilitate the delivery of a community stadium and the Council attended as an advisor to the Trust. The Council advised the Trust to establish a contract between themselves, the developer and the Club (as potential tenants) to facilitate and occupy a community stadium. The Council understand that a draft agreement was drawn up by the developer for consideration. The Council offered to continue providing advice on the terms of the contract but this offer was declined by Trust members in a meeting on 24 March 2015 – an extract of the minutes can be found here

In July 2013, a planning application was submitted by Yorkcourt Properties Ltd and Newcold Ltd for a cold food distribution warehouse within the Newmarket site.

The developer chose to submit a separate full planning application for the 22,300sqm Newcold development as the Newcold building did not fall within the parameters of the approved outline consent issued by the Secretary of State. By law this meant that it couldn’t be considered as part of the Newmarket development and separate planning permission needed to be submitted.

This was communicated to the Trust at a meeting with the Chief Executive and Corporate Director for Regeneration and Economic Growth from Wakefield Council at that time.

In line with the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement and statutory regulations, there were two separate 21-day periods of public consultation relating to the Newcold development. No objections to the Newcold planning application from the Trust were received.

In granting planning permission for the Newcold development, the development of a community stadium has not been compromised. Even if the 22,300sqm facility had contributed to the 60,000sqm B8 development identified in the Unilateral Undertaking it would not have triggered the development of a stadium.

Although Yorkcourt Properties Ltd and Newcold Ltd did not provide a Section 106 agreement linking the Newcold Development with the funding for a community stadium, the development did include the installation of a road infrastructure that provides essential access to the proposed location of a new stadium. The development has also created approximately 154 much needed jobs in the Wakefield district.

The Council, during informal conversations with the Trust, has made it clear that it is prepared to make a financial contribution, similar to the offer made in 2009, as part of the development of a new stadium at Newmarket. To date, the Trust have not asked the Council to provide any funding, nor have they shared any details of funding raised from other avenues to contribute to the development of a new stadium.

Senior Council representatives, including the Leader and Chief Executive, have had numerous meetings meeting with the Club, the Trust and the developer to help progress the development of a new community stadium. These meetings have been as recent as last week with further meetings in the diary. A full chronology of activity relating to the development of a new community stadium can be found here (this will be a live link to the document)

Recent reports that the Club has chosen to give notice on a lease at Belle Vue which doesn’t expire for another four years is surprising. We are keen to see Wakefield Trinity continue to play in the district and hope they consider the option of playing at Featherstone Rovers if there is no option of continuing to play at Belle Vue until a new stadium is built.

It is entirely understandable that Wakefield Trinity fans are frustrated at the lack of progress to build a new stadium, and the Council wholeheartedly shares this frustration.

Further compromising progress, is the resignation of the Trust Chair, Sir Rodney Walker and the possibility of the establishment of another trust. We have advised the Club of the potential difficulty this could create.

However, rugby is part of the DNA of this district. It is historically and culturally important and Wakefield Council remains committed to continuing to working with the Club and Trust to progress their ambitions for a new stadium.