Council Leader makes statement about Coventry City Football Club

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Council leader Ann Lucas has today made the following statement about Coventry City Football Club during the meeting of the Full Council. Leader of the Opposition Cllr John Blundell fully supported the statement.

Cllr Lucas said "For months I've wanted to talk to Coventry people about our football club, our Ricoh Arena and its future.

All of us in this Chamber know how passionately people feel about this issue - we've seen, just today, the strength of the feeling of fans who just want to see their club back in the city and who took the time to come here to the Council House today to tell us how they felt.

It's not in my nature to say "no comment". Ever. I'm the Leader of Coventry City Council and I have a responsibility to be honest, transparent and open with the people of Coventry about the decisions we make as a Council, the challenges we face, and the choices we need to make.

My first duty is - and always will be - to all 320,000 plus residents of Coventry, and that duty includes having honest conversations about the issues that are important to local people.

But lawyers have given me the strongest possible advice that I must not talk about the details of the long running and often bitter dispute that has led to my beloved Sky Blues playing its home games more than 30 miles away from the magnificent arena that was built for the club to play in less than a decade ago.

That's because the judicial review, brought by the club's owners SISU, means a legal dispute is still ongoing.

And while a judge rejected Sisu's arguments in strong terms in August and I was able to talk publicly about this issue for just a few days, the appeal subsequently lodged plunged us back into an enforced silence. 

I have thought long and hard about what I can say today. This Chamber is where all elected Members gather to discuss what's important to our city. We have been united across the political divide this year on this issue, and the Leader of the Opposition plays a key role in our ACL Shareholders Panel of councillors who meet regularly.

So it's right that I should talk about this to you directly today, although I continue to be constrained about talking publicly about the history and detail that got us to this sorry place.

There's nothing I'd like more than to be able to answer any questions residents and the media might have for me. Our local media - radio and newspapers - has played a vital part in explaining the complexities of this saga and challenging those involved, and I know they will continue to do so. As soon as I am able to, I will happily talk to the media and residents and answer any questions they may have for me. But for the time being this statement is all I can publicly say on the issue.

Let's be clear from the outset, and let's deal in facts, not conjecture, rumours and gossip. Nothing has changed since this saga began. The Council wants the Sky Blues playing great football successfully and sustainably at the Ricoh Arena.

I, personally, and my council colleagues will do all we can to make this happen. But, once again, nothing has changed in terms of our responsibilities to Coventry taxpayers. The sums need to add up - in terms of revenue and cost to play at the Ricoh Arena. The arena is owned 50% by the Council and 50% by the Higgs Charity - and we own it on behalf of the people of Coventry. I will not short change them. The Ricoh Arena is a great asset, and it deserves a great future.

The Ricoh Arena can survive without the club - there's no doubt about that. The business model is robust and there are well developed plans to grow the business in a number of ways. If the Ricoh Arena has to do without the football club it can do. But that's not what we want.

Whatever I, and my colleagues, think of Sisu, or Otium's behaviour or activities in the past, they are the current owners of the football club.  At the present time only they can bring the Sky Blues back to the Ricoh, and I call on them to do so.

I am here to listen to, meet with or hear from anyone who can have a reasonable, evidence based conversation with me about the long term future of the football club and the Ricoh Arena - and the ability to make it happen.

That doesn't mean talking to people who, I'm sure with the best of intentions, want to jump on a bandwagon and make claims about "sorting out" the football club and reuniting it with the Ricoh Arena. Let's keep this focused and serious - it's too important for frivolous gestures.

I can guarantee anyone with sensible and sustainable plans for the future of the football club and the Ricoh Arena can talk to me. This is a level playing field, and anyone who wants to play fair can do so. That's all I ask. This is an offer that's open to all - whatever's happened in the past.

We will work with whomever has the means, ability and desire to bring the club back home. I will do whatever it takes to solve this dispute which has done nothing but damage our city, a great football club and a great facility. There is little merit in spending time and energy looking backwards. We are where we are.
Enough is enough. Let's sort this out now, and bring the club home for Christmas.