Ambitious Luton refusing to settle for ‘cheap’ option over new stadium at Power Court

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet and architect Manuel Nogueira with a model of Power Court

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet and architect Manuel Nogueira with a model of Power Court

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Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet believes that Mall owners, Capital and General PLC, are going against the wishes of almost 11,000 people by issuing their objections to Town’s plans to build a new ground on Power Court based on the cost of the development.

Executive director Ken Ford claimed in his challenge to the plans for a new stadium that it ‘can be provided on a more affordable site’ and that ‘an income for the club can be achieved with less damage to the town centre.’

In theory there’s potentially a field near a motorway somewhere that can be developed for a small cheap stadium, and that could happen, but why settle at that?

Michael Moran

When answering that concern, Sweet pointed specifically to the number of representations, around 11,000 in total, that had been submitted to Luton Borough Council as proof it was the best site for a stadium, along with the Newlands Park redevelopment too.

He said: “It’s not just us that think so, it’s not far off 11,000 people agreeing with that.

“Of course people will say they’re just football supporters, well they’re not actually and when we look at those results of that, the public consultation where every single bit of documentation from our application has been made public, they can all read that.

“We’ve been very transparent about everything, particularly the risks that Ken highlights, that people have had full access to.

“Clearly they’ve considered the evidence and supported the applications by and large, so those people can’t be wrong.

“So this isn’t about Capital and Regional or anybody else necessarily disagreeing with us, it’s about them disagreeing with thousands of people who happen to feel that what we’re trying to do is positive.”

On just why Power Court is the only place for Luton to eventually call home, development director Michael Moran added: “It’s about ambition, because yes, in theory there’s potentially a field near a motorway somewhere that can be developed for a small cheap stadium, and that could happen, but why settle at that?

“We undertook a significant review of 27 sites and it comes down to ambition for the club and town. Power Court has been derelict for more years than anyone cares to mention, it’s been derelict because it’s got significant issues and all the research shows that a community club should be based in the heart of its town.

“So, yes, it could be done in a more affordable way, but that wouldn’t be better for Luton and it definitely would not deliver the £250m+ into the local economy that the leading accountancy firm KPMG have estimated will be delivered by the combination of Power Court and Newlands Park.

“But our schemes are about more than pure financial benefits. For example, St Mary’s Road is currently a barrier to the town centre. St Mary’s Church is left at the back-end and you drive past it before you even know it’s there. The plan to bring the River Lea back to life, to open up that area as a location to be proud of. Now that’s a pretty lofty ambition, but to be simply dismissed because Power Court’s a difficult site, well we know it’s a difficult site, it’s sat there and it’s getting worse, so that’s why we’re trying to embrace it and take on that challenge.”

Moran also revealed that St Mary’s Church are onside with the plans and excited about what a move would mean for their own future, adding: “One of the first discussions we had was with St Mary’s Church, it’s the most amazing grade one building and the church as an organisation is so embedded in the local community.

“They could not be more engaged and wanting themselves to work and improve that area and it’s the same with the UK Centre for Carnival Arts. Indeed, it’s a pleasure to work with all our new neighbours, hopefully.

“So yes, things could be done simpler and cheaper, but why should Luton keep settling for that? At what point do you say you want to make a change and want to try and be ambitious?”

Sweet felt that if the new ground in Power Court, plus the Newlands Park scheme get the green light from Luton Borough Council, it will instil a real sense of pride back into the town and help others see just what Luton has to offer.

He said: “It all comes together, both sites come together. What we’ve tried to do is recognise what the council want and what the town needs and provide it and put the right things in the right places.

“Having a football stadium nestled in the heart of the community where we want to work with the community and allow the community into our facility, to share that facility, to build an environment around the facility that is the pride of the town.

“And likewise up at Junction 10, to create a destination where people aren’t hesitant to come into Luton, people are actually welcomed into to Luton and witness a change in perception of Luton.”

Moran was of the same view too, believing the finished developments would change people’s views of the area.

He added: “We were very fortunate over the public consultation period to talk to thousands of people and one of the key underlying things is to try and get some pride back into the town.

“I defy anyone to look at the plans for St Mary’s Road, opening up the river, for the quality of offices or for a type of active leisure and restaurants and brands that are not within 30 miles from here, not to feel a bit of positivity, that actually the name of Luton has been tarnished over the last decades and if millions of people every year are going past on the railway line, past Power Court, up and down the motorway, saying, ‘absolutely, yes, now that’s impressive,’ that’s how you really change perceptions.”