Council upholds refusal of LTFC sports dome in private meeting

A decision to refuse Luton Town Football Club a lease to build its academy dome on land off Cutenhoe Road has been upheld by the borough council's overview and scrutiny board, meeting in private.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 12:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 12:58 pm
LTFC's sports dome
LTFC's sports dome

The Hatters were granted outline planning permission by the local authority for the artificial training pitch, which is essential to the club moving from category three to category two status.

But the council's executive rejected the offer of a lease to the club, despite the proposal containing clauses for LBC to take the land back at any time and allowing free use of the sports fields by local schools.

The Liberal Democrat opposition group said it was "mystified" by the Labour ruling group's verdict.

The matter was referred back to a meeting of the board, last night, (Mon 8th) where Labour councillors voted for the debate to be held in private.

“What are they hiding from Luton residents?" asked the Liberal Democrat group leader and Barnfield councillor David Franks.

"Liberal Democrat councillors called for the discussions to be in public, but the Labour majority on the board squashed the move.

“If the meeting had been in public, we would have proposed that lease negotiations should proceed.

"This would include payment of a commercial rent, football club responsibility to maintain the playing field, a free shared use agreement with the local schools and the council’s right to take the land back for educational use with 12 months’ notice.

“The town hall lawyers agreed with us," said councillor Franks. "There was no legal reason to justify the final recommendation being decided in private.

"But the Labour group's so determined to keep the issue under a cloak of secrecy there must be something they don’t want people to know.

"Taxpayers are entitled to know what their council is doing with their money and their assets, and why.”

During the public part of the meeting, Labour South councillor David Agbley told the board that he thought councillor Franks had accepted the legal argument over holding any discussions in private.

Councillor Franks replied: "I did no such thing. I accepted there was an argument for taking it in secret.

"The question arises whether you agree with that argument or whether you don't. I don't, so I'm voting against going into private."

Liberal Democrat Sundon Park councillor Anne Pedersen, who chairs the board, called on the Labour members to vote to avoid any confusion, but their votes would be absent from the minutes of the meeting.

The vote was seven-six in favour of moving into private session.

A subsequent vote is understood to have supported the executive committee decision, so the issue will no longer be referred to a full council meeting.

Luton Town said it was shocked and disappointed by the original decision to refuse the club a lease on the site.

Hatters' chairman David Wilkinson said in his weekend programme notes the club is hoping to find a way to work with the local authority.

Council leader and Labour Lewsey councillor Hazel Simmons previously said in a letter that there was a "past resolution not to release the land" because Linden Academy uses the playing fields on a regular basis.

And Chiltern Academy has an option to do so once it reaches full pupil capacity.