Meeting with Torbay Conservative Councillors Group Monday 21st May
To All Members On Monday this week, Ali Bryant and I met with around 12 Conservative Councillors at the Town Hall in Torquay. The meeting had been arranged in order to continue the dialogue we had instigated with other council groups and our MP over the last couple of years. The meeting was chaired by the Leader of the Conservative Group, David Thomas.
We engaged in a presentation and discussion lasting for around 40 minutes covering a whole range of issues. These ranged from a “re-stating” of TUST's, objectives through to discussion of the work we had undertaken in recent times including the engagement with the club and more recently its’ owner Clarke Osborne.
We re-affirmed our position that TUST is primarily concerned with the long term sustainability and good governance of the football club. We are not aspiring to run the club, but will do what is necessary to protect it. That said, we would consider and are prepared for, as a result of the worst case scenario, the launching of a community share issue in order to obtain supporter/community ownership of the club should the situation ever arise.
However, we would much prefer to work alongside the owner of the club with transparency and engagement, in order to achieve the good governance and long term sustainability we are concerned with. We outlined the encouragement we felt from the recent meeting and exchange of views with Mr Osborne, held with 3 members of the TUST Board. This could only serve as a positive in improving the communication and clarity that comes from the owner over his long term plans.
We outlined the improved infrastructure of TUST over recent months with additions to the TUST board and an increasing membership. Improvements to our social media presence through the establishment of a dedicated team meant that we are now able to reach many more supporters, both locally and nationally. Work is continuing at pace with various initiatives. We are looking at increasing and improving the profile of TUST and TUFC in the eyes of its’ stakeholders, the supporters, local community and businesses.
It is still early days with regard to the engagement we have commenced with Mr Osborne but we have already outlined many members'/supporters’ concerns over the future ownership of Plainmoor in conjunction with the idea of a new stadium being built. This was discussed with the councillors and we articulated the rationale for such concerns including a lack of clarity over business plans, time-lines or models etc. to contextualise the owners' ideas. In view of this, we discussed the work we had undertaken to date therefore in an effort to support the protection of the freehold of Plainmoor, and for it remaining under council control.
That said, we did make it clear that we are not against the idea of a new stadium, but any new plan put forward, we believe should involve supporter and community involvement and consultation. This was something that Mr Osborne did concur with when we met. Also, if ever an acceptable plan was to be considered, we suggested to the councillors that the council or community should consider retaining the ownership of a new stadium's freehold as an important part of ensuring the long term sustainability of the club.
We mentioned that as a TUST board, we are naturally very wary of any move away from Plainmoor to a new stadium. This scepticism is borne out of previous questionable and related projects by business owners of many other football clubs around the country, resulting in their demise or pending financial crisis. This is currently an issue being flagged up at EFL/FA and government level.
From the councillors’ perspective, they were able to offer the following comments to us:
They had no knowledge of any “formal” meetings between the clubs’ owner with the mayor or council, since Mr Osborne took control of the club, although informal talks, of course, may well have taken place.
They had recently discovered (through councillor David Thomas) that there were three way conversations between the mayor, the previous TUFC board, Mr Osborne and other business representatives before he 'purchased' the club. These discussions had included the potential sale of the freehold of Plainmoor as part of any deal agreed as a key topic.
Both comments are broadly in line with the detail Mr Osborne confirmed to us at our recent meeting on 10th May.
It was indicated by one of the Councillors present that the stated value of Plainmoor to the council would be circa £350,000, based on the current income from the annual lease payment.
The general consensus of the councillors present was that Plainmoor had a history and heritage, and held memories for many people. Indeed one or two councillors included themselves as having strong connections. It was viewed that the club added to Torbay's national identity, especially when having football league status. Furthermore, that it has always been good for the local business economy, when the team had been attracting higher numbers of away supporters.
The group wanted us to know that, since the mayor was elected, there had been a new government ruling which has now given the council the right to call in and block any decisions the elected mayor might decide to take independently. Therefore, in the event of any decisions taken which were considered unfavourable to the long term future of the club, they would be prepared to use the above right.
However, they do not contemplate the mayor returning to the plan of selling the freehold of Plainmoor, but they are of the same opinion as us regarding the necessity of the council retaining ownership. If anything new is ever proposed and proved to be beneficial both to the club and the local community, including consultation with the club's supporters and the wider community, then they agree with us that Torquay United should remain in situ until any new stadium is ready and fit to use and suitably financed.
We felt the meeting was very beneficial in continuing to keep councillors up-to-date with the work TUST is undertaking. It was also re-assuring that there is a groundswell of opinion in the corridors of local power to support the long term continuity of the club for years to come. This is surely a positive factor irrespective of whoever owns the keys to the door of the football club.
Michel Thomas pp TUST Board