Sweet left 'dumbfounded' by Luton Council's 'devastating' decision to refuse Town a lease for academy dome at Cutenhoe Road

Hatters CEO 'deeply concerned' that planning application has been rejected

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 10:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 11:04 am
Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet

Luton chief executive Gary Sweet was left 'dumbfounded' and 'deeply concerned' by the decision from Luton Borough Council to refuse the club a lease to build their new academy dome at Cutenhoe Road.

Back in October, the council had passed Town’s application for the facility which is essential to the club moving from Category 3 to Category 2 status, allowing them to play in the Premier League’s U23 development games programme.

However they then rejected the decision at a meeting of the Executive on Monday night, despite no formal reason being given yet.

Liberal Democrat leader of the opposition on the Council, David Franks declared the ruling as 'illogical', while writing in his programme notes ahead of last night's 2-0 defeat to QPR, Sweet, who had previously stated that Town might look to move their training facilities elsewhere if they weren't granted the lease, said: "The devastating news came to us of the Council members’ decision to reject their own officers’ recommendation to grant a lease to the Club for the derelict grass at Cutenhoe Road, next to The Brache.

"I remain dumbfounded at the short-sightedness of this decision and deeply concerned about the impact this will have on the club.

"We are hoping there’s a way we can change councillors’ view on this, but we haven’t yet been given an explanation for their reasons to reject.

"There has been some indication that it is because the land has been assigned for future educational use.

"If this is true, it doesn’t make sense either given that all local schools support our lease and our lease proposal contained clauses to allow the Council to take the land back at any time should they want to build a school.

"In any case, if a school was ever built on a location with space for three, why wouldn’t it want to partner with a Championship football club to deliver PE and Sport?

"Indeed, who knows, maybe we may have even been tempted to build our own school in future? Indeed, our Academy is our school.

"It feels unfathomably peculiar that our planning application for the dome itself was given consent with councillor approval, but the lease has been rejected despite officers supporting it, so we’re hopeful that there is a way forward in some form.

"As you will know, a very small proportion of this land was earmarked for an air-dome to elevate our academy status from EPPP Category 3 to Category 2, so if there is no resolution, this will not now happen.

"The knock-on impact of this means we’ll have some serious rethinking to do if we want our academy to provide a supply of talent to our first team squad and elsewhere.

"Academy football is changing such that fewer youth development clubs will exist in future (as is beginning to happen now) and facilities cannot be compromised any more.

"Either we’re in or we’re out."

The Hatters have been blessed with some superb players who have come through their academy in recent years, from the likes of defenders Matty Upson and Curtis Davies, to more recent times, and James Justin, who went to Leicester City in a club record deal for the Hatters in June 2019.

That transfer has helped the club survive during the coronavirus pandemic, as Sweet added: "Along with the wonderful support our fan base community has given us over the last year without the transfer income of our former youth talent, today, I couldn’t honestly tell you if Luton Town would be in existence under current restrictions.

"The viability and sustainability of a football club is very much more difficult to achieve without a strong academy.

This morning, I have been contacted by many dozens of supporters expressing their anguish at this decision, asking what can be done.

"My advice has been to ensure that you politely and appropriately make your feelings known to those who represent you.

"We shall, of course, communicate the official reasons once we know them."