Wilkinson: Green light for Newlands Park is the most important day in Luton Town's history
Town chairman David Wilkinson hailed ‘the most important day of the club’s history’ as the Hatters finally reached the end of their long-standing battle with Capital & Regional over plans for a new ground Power Court and mixed use scheme at Newlands Park.
After both applications were given the go-ahead by Luton Borough Council last year, the Mall’s owners challenged the decision for the latter, applying to the High Court for a Judicial Review into Newlands Park.
This was rejected by the High Court, with C&R given until Monday to appeal, but with nothing lodged by the time the deadline passed, it means Luton are now free to start turning their plans into a reality.
Speaking exclusively to the Luton News, Wilkinson said: “It’s fantastic, but it’s one of those things where you almost expect everything to go wrong until the last minute.
“They’ve dragged it on for so long and it’s cost us so much time and money that it’s slightly unreal really.
“But it’s wonderful, as since I’ve been a fan for 62 years now, we’ve been talking about it, or the club has.
“It’s probably the most important day of the club’s history really as we know we couldn’t survive without it.
“I see it as a fan, I still pinch myself when I go into Kenilworth Road, as a fan, it’s for all of us.
“I don’t think of it as being the chairman, it’s all us together.
"Gary (Sweet, chief executive) and Mike Moran (development director) have done all the hard graft, along with all of the consultants, the lawyers, it’s fantastic news.”
Wilkinson admitted he had thought C&R would appeal the decision made by the High Court, even though the Honourable Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing had been fairly scathing in her response, stating the challenge had been based on a ‘few paragraphs’.
He continued: “Yes we thought they would, we thought they’d go on as long as they could.
“Maybe because the judge in this one was so definitive about the three things being not valid, maybe the strength of the response put them off.
“Maybe the ongoing cost did too as I think if there was no hope that they could win, they’ve got to think of their shareholders at some stage haven’t they?”
Despite not following up their JR claims, C&R have been able to delay the Hatters from beginning to move home for a number of years, as the plans were initially submitted back in August 2016.
Wilkinson conceded it has been a frustrating time, and will lead to a slight delay in getting spades in the ground going forward, as he said: “Because it’s taken so long, because they’ve dragged it out, what did they say ‘in the long grass,’ everything’s changed in that time.
“The economy’s changed, new technology’s changed in terms of what you can put in your new stadium, the retail market’s changed for Junction 10 and Newlands, so it’s a lot of rethought going on.
“Some is good, some is better and some is worse and also we’ve got to get into detailed planning now and costings.
“But it’s there, we’ve got it and the land has now got some value.
“We now know we can carry out the plans, we’ll modify them a little bit where we have to, and it will take a bit of time, but we’re not going to start digging tomorrow.
“If you think about it, the normal amount of time, we wouldn’t have had Brexit problems, we would have had some more continuity.
"We’d obviously talked in the early stages to various tenants and potential investors and that sort of thing, who have all restructured or realigned because of economic conditions because it’s taken so long.
“So we have to re-engage with them again which is frustrating and hard to quantify what Capital & Regional has cost us, but it’s a lot.
“It will all happen now, but it won’t happen as quickly as we wanted it to before.”
The Hatters chair did assure fans though, that despite the green light taking far longer than they had hoped, the club will look to complete both schemes as quickly as possible.
He added: “I don’t get involved day to day, but Gary and Mike will be going to MIPIM, a big Conference in March, and now is the first time they’ve visited where they have something material they can trade.
“So that will be a pretty busy, hectic time and will be the time where they start tying people down I guess.
“There’s a time thing for us, as it’s going to be more beneficial for us economically.
“The club needs it to progress and the town needs it too, so we don’t want to hang around, but we want to be reasonable and do it properly.”