Capital & Regional have been warned not to “pick a fight with the wrong people” on the eve of the Mall owner’s meeting with Luton Town Football Club.
The two sides are scheduled to get together today (Wednesday) to discuss their differences of opinion on the Hatters’ applications for a Power Court stadium and enabling development at Newlands Park,
And Tony Murray, Luton Town Supporters’ Trust chairman, told the Luton News yesterday that Capital & Regional were going against the wishes of the Luton public by digging their heels in on their opposition to the retail/leisure element of Newlands Park.
When asked if there was any chance of the meeting being productive, after C&R stated in a BBC interview on Friday that they would seek to get the schemes called in by the Secretary of State if they were to be approved by Luton Council, Mr Murray said: “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
He said: “They are saying they looking to get the developments called in by the Secretary of State, and a Judicial Review if that doesn’t work. It is just delaying as long as they possibly can.
“They say they want to talk with 2020, but on the understanding they drop the retail development at Newlands Park. I don’t think C&R are fully aware of the history of what Luton Town fans are like. We had had so many fights over the years, but if they are picking a fight, they are picking a fight with the wrong people.”
He feared a call-in of the schemes would add a two-year delay, but said he hoped the government’s policy for localism, where decisions are made by communities, would be followed.
During the interview on Three Counties Radio, chief executive of Capital and Regional, Lawrence Hutchings, said the retail planned at Newlands Park would have a “profound negative impact on the town centre”.
He said the Government had recently refreshed planning policy designed to protect town centres, and suggested alternative uses for Newlands Park to fund the stadium, stating there was demand for logistics and residential.
He pledged to fight the Newlands proposals all the way, adding: “We are very supportive of the stadium, however we won’t stop defending the 2,500 jobs and people’s livelihoods that exist in the town centre. The application is of a scale that it would go before the Secretary of State irrespective.
“We are very keen to engage with 2020 to find a solution to fund the stadium at Power Court.”
Mr Hutchings said he was looking forward to the April 18 meeting with club and would approach it with an open mind. And he claimed a Freedom of Information Act request to the council had revealed that the cause of the delay with the planning applications was the club’s failure to provide a retail impact assessment and a Newlands Park viability analysis.
But Luton Town chief executive Gary Sweet, said suggestions that there were missing documents the club still had to provide was “ludicrous”.
He said: “We have provided everything the council has requested from us. The notion that we would want to delay our own application is just daft, it’s crazy.
“The very notion they have committed to challenge it before they’ve seen the council’s evidence. It is really disrespectful to our applications and disrespectful to the council’s process and disrespectful to the people of Luton. It doesn’t set up for a very open minded meeting on the 18th. We will be all ears, it will be interesting to find out what comes of it.”
He added: “There will be very, very minimal impact on the town centre from Newlands Park.”
Of C&R’s FoI request to the council, Mr Murray told the Luton News he could only presume the company had misinterpreted the information it had received back.
Mr Murray said: “C&R put in an FoI to the council which provided them with all the emails between the council and 2020. That’s where they’ve got their information from. I think it’s the case that they’ve misunderstood emails.
“There was a retail impact assessment which was one of the first things that 2020 did. The original assessment showed that Luton is under-retailed. There is a second one, an independent one, generated by the council.”
He added: “The type of retail that 2020 are going for will complement, not compete with, The Mall and capture people going to Hemel and Milton Keynes.
“They are pushing the 2,500 jobs, but that did not seem to matter when they put HMV’s rent up, which caused them to go.”
Of the frustrating hold up with the planning applications, he said: “We are running out of patience. I understand why the council are trying to play it safe. It’s not the council that are the problem.”
A spokesman for Luton Borough Council said the council should be in a position to make an announcement of the Development Control Committee meeting date to determine the schemes by the end of April.
She said in order for the applications to be determined before the end of the summer, the council would need all of the following to have been finished:
> Technical reports to be completed and published on the planning application portal;
> Public consultation on the documents for about a month;
> 2020 Developments given an opportunity to respond to any comments.
She added: “The officers’ report cannot be completed until all of the above has been finalised.”