EXCLUSIVE: Sweet isn’t worried by concerns over Newlands Park

Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet
Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet

Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet wasn’t unduly worried by news that the Luton Borough Council’s strategic planning team have registered ‘significant concerns’ over the club’s plans to build a mixed used scheme at Newlands Park.

The Hatters recently submitted planning applications for a new stadium at Power Court, plus the scheme on the land adjacent to Junction 10 of the M1, which would include offices, retail space, a hotel and leisure amenities.

It’s not surprising in the least but maybe a little disappointing that those policy planners haven’t given greater consideration to the detail of our supporting evidence submitted with our planning applications.

Gary Sweet

The development is absolutely crucial to Luton’s bid to build a new stadium at Power Court, with Newlands Park funding most of the new costs for the ground.

However, the advice of the council’s strategic planning team was published on their website earlier this week, in which they raised various concerns with the plans received.

When asked if he was worried by this latest development, Sweet, speaking exclusively to the News/Gazette, said: “No, not at all. As previously mentioned, the officers responsible for our applications sit in Development Control not Strategic Planning.

“Many people, including the press, seem to think these comments have stemmed from those assessing our applications – they’re not.

“It’s not surprising in the least but maybe a little disappointing that those policy planners haven’t given greater consideration to the detail of our supporting evidence submitted with our planning applications.

“We’re also surprised more consideration hasn’t been given to the weight of public support that has accompanied our two applications and seen this as a bigger, better and more ambitious development for the greater good of the town.”

Sweet admitted the negative response from the strategic planners after the double applications for a new 17,500 all-seater stadium at Power Court and Newlands Park were submitted in August weren’t totally unsurprising either.

He continued: “No, their comments were not entirely unexpected. Firstly, it’s worth explaining that the Strategic Planning team are not responsible for assessing our applications, that job belongs to Development Control.

“Strategic Planning would have been one of the many statutory stakeholders consulted by Development Control.

“Their principle responsibility is to progress the Council’s Local Plan and their role is to challenge all applications that may have an impact on the Plan”

“The emerging Local Plan is currently being reviewed by a Government Inspector and within that process we have made representations where we disagree with certain elements of it.”

Although the club are planning to respond to the issues, Sweet won’t be discussing any of the points with the strategic planners themselves, or local councillors either, as he said: “No. Our point of contact is with the Development Control team, everybody in this process feeds into them, including Strategic Planning.

“We will certainly be responding on the points raised and pointing to the evidence that, we firmly believe, supports our position beyond doubt.

“No we haven’t (discussed the developments with councillors) as that would not be appropriate at this stage.

“The Councillors that sit on the Development Control Committee must be very careful to come to their own independent opinions without undue influences from neither the developer or any objectors. Likewise, one of our key cornerstones is to conduct our business – on and off the pitch you could say – in a sporting spirit of respect and fairness.

“We want to reach our ambitious targets knowing we’ve achieved them fully and properly.

“We see that as one of the characteristics that identifies us as a club and a business.

With some supporters naturally worried about the latest developments this week, having seen previous moves away from Kenilworth Road fail to materialise in the past, Sweet insisted they shouldn’t lose sight of what 2020 are trying to achieve.

He added: “As every Hatter has frequently needed to remind themselves in the past, ‘keep the faith!’

“In many instances the questions raised are entirely legitimate. We are though confident that we have answered them fully in what has already been submitted. It is unfortunately the nature of the beast that an initial focus is always on potential issues and concerns.

“Be assured though that the fact we are regenerating a major contaminated site in the heart of the town, bringing the River Lea back to life and creating thousands of valuable jobs in the process is most definitely a positive in our favour – amongst the many other benefits we believe our two schemes can deliver.”