Friday 16 December 2011

Keep Barnet F.C. at Underhill

Earlier this week, Mr Tony Kleanthous, Chairman of Barnet Football Club, announced that the club was going to leave Underhill at the end of the season. A petition has been set up to keep the club at their current home and you can sign it here. Don’t Call Me Dave urges everyone to sign it, even if you are not a football fan.

Mr Kleanthous blames his ongoing disagreements with Barnet Council as being the reason for the proposed departure. But he has been arguing with Barnet Council for as long as most of us can remember. Even back in the days when Labour and the LibDems were ruining running the council, he was complaining that they were not doing enough to support the club.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter how much the council gives, Mr Kleanthous always seems to want more. In 2002, the Labour led administration secretly sold the freehold of Underhill to Barnet Football Club Holdings Ltd (a company controlled by Mr Kleanthous, but separate to the football club, despite its name) for the princely sum of £10,000. Yes, £10,000 for a three acre site in a prime residential location. Many BFC fans have been posting messages on the internet demanding that the council supports the club. How much more support is the council supposed to give?

The High Court actually ruled that the sale was unlawful, but it was powerless to overturn the transaction, meaning that the taxpayers of Barnet received very poor value.

Under the agreed terms of the sale, the council was due to receive a percentage of the future development value. The percentage split was 60/40 in the council’s favour. However, due to an elementary cock up in the contract, which the highly paid Borough Solicitor, Jeff Lustig, failed to spot (even though he was legally required to approve said contract), the agreement was time limited to ten years. In other words, if BFCH sold the land within 10 years of purchase, Barnet taxpayers would receive a share. If BFCH sold after 10 years, they kept the lot.

DCMD is sure that it is simply a very happy coincidence that Mr Kleanthous has made the decision to move out now, just as the 10 year anniversary (March 2012) is rapidly approaching.

Of course, if Barnet Football Club remain at Underhill forever, the land cannot be developed into housing and private individuals will not be able to profit at the expense of taxpayers, whose land was sold without their knowledge or consent.

It is therefore imperative that everyone does whatever is necessary to Keep Barnet Football Club at Underhill.


Mrs Angry said...

welcome back DCMD: I have read this very carefully and almost understand it but tell me - is Underhill in the greenbelt area, or not? In other words, how realistic is the suspicion that it will be used for development in the near future?

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Greetings to you, Mrs Angry

The land is currently designated green belt. However, before the council sold it to BFCH, officers produced a report suggesting that the land was unsustainable in the green belt (being surrounded on 3 sides by housing) and it should be de-designated. Conveniently this aspect was overlooked when the contract was drawn up. The land designation obviously affects its value.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2002, they announced that they would not de-designate the land. However, that does not mean that it will always remain green belt. There is nothing to stop Mr Kleanthous from making an application to the Lands Tribunal to have the designation removed. If he did this, it is highly likely that he would succeed (a) based on the previous officer report and (b) because the Government has indicated that it intends to relax planning laws.

Mrs Angry said...

hmmm. That is awfully interesting, thank you, DCMD.

hanlemic said...

David, you know full well that when that sale was going through the planning application for South Underhill was also being decided. A condition of that application being given consent was that the proposal in the draft UDP to take Underhill out of Green Belt was removed. I do not have paperwork to hand, but it may have been the Mayor's office that insisted on that. SU was approved and Underhill stayed in Green Belt. Please stop continuing to spin events to justify the amount of money that was wasted on court cases and inquiries at you instigation. Oh and can you remind me of the ways in which Barnet Council have assisted Barnet FC with the various plans and proposals to improve facilities at Underhill since 2002 so that they can stay there?

Don't Call Me Dave said...


It really doesn’t matter how many times you try to suggest that the legal case was at my instigation, it simply isn’t true. The fact of the matter remains that, at my own expense, I obtained legal advice for the then Leader of the Council which stated clearly that LBB could not win the case it was fighting. My advice was completely ignored. I further advised the Leader not to appeal the Court decision, but I was again ignored.

As for the PwC investigation, along with two other members of the public, I made a formal complaint to the Auditor in accordance with the legal rights available to all citizens. However, PwC did not take up the complaint until the council themselves wrote to them asking for an investigation. The three members of the public had absolutely no say as to the manner in which the investigation took place and cannot be held responsible for the cost, which I accept was outrageous. Perhaps if former leader Alan Williams hadn’t shredded his files, the investigation would have all been over in a matter of days?

As for the planning application, perhaps you are not aware that de-designation is not the sole preserve of local authorities. Any individual can make an application to the Lands Tribunal for the status to be changed, and once BFCH became the freeholder, the council’s bargaining position was severely weakened. Maybe you have seen the draft UDP documents? The council states clearly and unequivocally that the land should not be in the green belt because it did not meet with green belt objectives. The fact that the council decided in the end not to de-designate is irrelevant. If he was so minded, Mr Kleanthous can now use the 2001 draft UDP as part of his evidence in any application he may decide to make to the Lands Tribunal in the future.

I can tell you as a matter of fact that shortly after the 2002 election, the council was asked to de-designate the land and the request was given consideration by the Leader, but he ultimately declined. In my opinion, this was the correct decision given that the Conservatives fought the election campaign specifically on the point of the Underhill green belt designation.

As to your final point, I am not sure how you expect me to respond. BFC is a private company which has no right to insist on help from the council. If a council chooses to help, it can (within the law) but if it decides not to, that is its prerogative. BFC has the right to submit planning applications but these must be processed and determined in accordance with planning law. Anything less, would be a serious scandal. If BFC thinks that the council has incorrectly determined a planning application, there is a clear regulatory process for appeal.

Moaning to the press about how hard done by the club is by the council, might gain Mr Kleanthous praise from supporters, but it doesn’t mean that he is right. I understand your support for your club, but BFC does not have the right to demand its own way on each and every issue.

baarnett said...

I'm not really adding anything important, but I have checked with people at this week's Barnet "Core Strategy" inquiry (where apparently the inspector bought everyone coffee from the library!) and the council had no iffs and buts about the Green Belt, or Municipal Open Land, whatever that is.

It would presumably use benign neglect if someone else said it wasn't green enough to stay as green belt land.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I have overlooked Michael’s somewhat disingenuous opening comment when he says: “you know full well that when that sale was going through the planning application for South Underhill was also being decided.”

When South Underhill was under consideration, nobody knew about the sale, apart from the Labour/Lib Dem Administration and the council officers involved in the transaction. They all kept that information secret from the Conservative councillors and the public alike. Indeed, the public were not informed of the sale until after the election in May 2002 when control of the council changed.

BFC supporters have to accept that the Conservatives fought the 2002 election on a very firm pledge not to allow the second stadium. That promise found resonance in Underhill ward and Labour lost two seats accordingly. Politicians are often accused of breaking promises, but the Conservatives kept this one. In a democracy, you have to abide by the will of the people, whatever your own feelings.

Mrs Angry said...

See, this is why I have never understood the Underhill thing. ON e thing I hope we all agree on is that Barnet FC ought to stay at Underhill, or if this is impossible, find a new venue with security of tenancy. If the club is moved out of the are entirely, it will lose its identity and eventually fade away.
Mrs Angry, football pundit, has spoken.End of.

getthissorted said...

If Barnet FC are allowed to build a 10,000 capacity stadium in the Borough of Barnet (BoB), then not only will the BoB recieve council tax, but schools, amateur clubs, the disabled and more will all benefit from Barnet FC's community projects - such as free coaching.
If the club relocate to another borough, then it is that borough that will receive the council tax and thousands of hours community work.
Therefore as a Suffolk resident, but Barnet FC fan I fail to see why the council do not help the club.
I would recommend a meeting between all relevant parties that is also open to the public. This would not only try to expedite a solution, but would also allow the public to know exactly who is telling he truth.
I personally think both the council and the club are playing games with each other.
I care little where Barnet play (Underhill, south Underhill, Copthall, The Hive or anywhere else in north London or south Herts.
All I want is a solution.
I wonder if the council and Barnet residents secretly rue the Copthal debacle. Look at Wigan, Fulham, Swansea, Blackpool and others. All in Barnets division and all current or recent Premier league teams.
Do people thing that Barnef FC would be a plus or negative for the Borough?
Stop playing silly politics and sort it out.