Nottingham Forest says City Ground land deal now ‘conditional’ to extra planning permissions

Artist impression on how the City Ground could look
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

Nottingham Forest says any completion of a deal to purchase the land the City Ground sits on is now “conditional” to further planning permissions being granted.

It comes after the leader of Nottingham City Council, which currently owns the land, announced during a meeting on Monday (July 8) terms had been agreed in principle for the sale of the freehold for an undisclosed sum.

There had been just 33 years left on the existing lease agreement, and an extension to 250 years was seen as critical so the club could realise plans to expand the stadium.

Negotiations collapsed earlier this year after the council asked for a larger sum for the lease, reportedly rising from £250,000 a year to around £1m, following Nottingham Forest’s promotion to the Premier League.

The council said at the time it is legally bound to make sure it achieves best value in decisions, particularly after declaring effective bankruptcy and the appointment of Government commissioners in February.

Talks started up again after Cllr Neghat Khan (Lab) took over as leader of the Labour-run authority in May.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Monday: “I’m pleased to announce we have agreed in principle the sale of the City Ground to Nottingham Forest, all subject to the Exec Board approval next Tuesday.

“It’s a great deal for Forest supporters, for the club and also Nottingham taxpayers. It now means we can focus our resources on tackling other issues we have.”

However, hours later Nottingham Forest said in a statement: “For absolute clarity, we continue to work on the terms for a conditional deal for the purchase of the freehold.

“Any decision to purchase the freehold will be entirely conditional on Nottingham Forest first being granted the relevant permissions that will allow us to realise our hugely ambitious plans for a significantly larger stadium capacity, world-class hospitality spaces and associated substantial real estate development in the vicinity of the ground.”

But while the city council owns the land, it does not have any control over planning in the local authority area where the stadium is located.

Rushcliffe Borough Council is the planning authority.

Clarifying this, Cllr Khan said in a post on X, formerly Twitter: “The land City Ground sits on is owned by [the city council]. We have a deal on the table.

“The planning permission for the club to redevelop the site sits with [Rushcliffe Borough Council]. I have no say in this decision.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Cllr Khan if she wished to comment further, but was told the council’s position remains unchanged.

Planning permission for the redevelopment of the Peter Taylor stand, including the demolition of existing buildings, a new public realm, replacement club shop, car parking and associated works, was granted by Rushcliffe Borough Council in July 2022.

On top of this, outline planning permission for up to 170 residential units including flexible uses (Class E) at ground floor, was also granted.

These plans would have allowed the stand to cater for an additional 5,000 fans.

Delays were encountered following planning approval, with issues surrounding the relocation of the Nottingham Britannia Rowing Club’s boathouse in Trentside North.

Nottingham Britannia Rowing Club boathouse and the City Ground
Nottingham Britannia Rowing Club boathouse and the City Ground

The club’s accounts also noted the Covid pandemic as having had an impact on redevelopment.

Then, following the appointment of club chairman Tom Cartledge, Nottingham Forest unveiled its ‘masterplan’ for the site. The club said it had further plans to extend the Bridgford stand to cater for an extra 5,000 fans, bringing the total to 40,000.

It is this element that does not yet have planning permission from Rushcliffe Borough Council, and without it the club cannot, as its statement says, “realise our hugely ambitious plans for a significantly larger stadium capacity”.

Following the club’s statement, the leader of the borough council posted a comment addressing planning permissions.

Cllr Neil Clarke (Con) said: “We will continue to work constructively with all partners.

“It is positive Nottingham Forest and the City Council are continuing discussions and like all commercial negotiations, details remain confidential until finalised.

“We granted Nottingham Forest planning permission for their latest planning application to extend ground capacity and associated development in 2022 and should any further plans come forward these will go through our usual independent planning process.”

The tussle between the club and the city council before led to it approaching Conservative-run Nottinghamshire County Council about the possibility of a stadium move to a section of land in Toton.

The county council-owned land at Toton had been originally purchased for a HS2 station hub.

While early talks had been held, with ideas floated about a stadium fit for 50,000 fans at Toton, it prompted widespread displeasure from fans.

With talks having restarted with Nottingham City Council and the club now being interested in purchasing the freehold, any movement surrounding this possibility has seemingly ceased.

A County Council spokesperson added: “We have provided all the necessary information to our partner Rushcliffe Borough Council, in its role as the planning authority.”

Nottingham City Council has recommended the disposal of the freehold to the club for approval at an Executive Board meeting on July 16.

Documents say it will provide the council “with a significant capital receipt in 2024/25”.

However they also reveal the sale will result in a significant revenue loss.

To bridge this revenue gap, the council has an approved revenue pressure funding budget and an asset rationalisation reserve available.

The asset rationalisation reserve contains cash brought in from the sale of surplus property assets the council no longer needs.

It says while the budget “is a finite amount”, it is sufficient to cover the revenue impact of the freehold sale.

In the report Dawn Cafferty, Interim Head of Procurement, says specialist agency advice needed to complete the disposal is anticipated to cost in the region of £100,000 or below.

External valuation of the freehold, to make sure the council is achieving best value for city taxpayers, is anticipated to be valued below £25,000.

Documents also note the council has legal mechanisms to ensure it obtains a share of any uplift in value created by redevelopment on the site.

Nottingham Forest declined to comment further.

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