COVENTRY City want to open talks with Wasps to stay at the Ricoh – as judges today rejected an appeal over the council’s stadium sale to the traditionally London-based rugby club.
Judges again refused Sky Blues’ owners Sisu’s related companies permission to have a judicial review.
Sisu claims the circa £20 million sale in 2014 on a hugely extended 250-year lease was around £30million under value and unlawfully shortchanged council taxpayers.
Sisu’s lawyers had argued Ricoh owners and landlords Wasps should pay the shortfall and compensation, or enter talks about joint stadium ownership with the Sky Blues, who the Ricoh was built for.
Wasps have said legal action would have to conclude before another extension of the football club’s Ricoh Arena tenancy after this year. Yet they had made the same threats publicly last year before granting a one-year extension.
Ahead of today’s judgment, the CCFC website yesterday evening published the following statement:
“Coventry City Football Club can confirm its intention to agree a new deal to play matches at the Ricoh Arena beyond the end of the current season.
Coventry City has already made this clear to the stadium owners Wasps, writing to them directly on 28th September to request that talks commence to achieve this aim.
We want to avoid doubt and uncertainty for everyone connected with the club, but most importantly for fans, about where the Club will play home matches next season.
Without agreement of a stadium to play at next season, the Club’s place in the English Football League is at risk. The Ricoh Arena is currently the only suitable option available for the club to play home matches in Coventry.
We are committed to working with the stadium owners Wasps to achieve our aim of a new deal, which we believe will be of benefit to them too.
We have seen attendances rise this season and have worked hard to increase CCFC non-matchday events at the Ricoh Arena, and we therefore hope that Coventry City can continue to be a valuable tenant to Wasps.
This is not about our Owners and not about Court Cases – we are not aware of the judgement which will be made on Friday. It is instead about the immediate future of Coventry City Football Club.
Since the new agreement was made for the current season, we have seen relations and co-operation between our companies improve greatly on a day-to-day level. We hope that this will continue, for the benefit of both Wasps Rugby Club, the Ricoh Arena and Coventry City Football Club.
We will aim to keep fans informed, subject to confidentiality agreements, wherever possible.”
HISTORY OF COURT ACTION..
Three of the country’s top lawyers had heard the latest case on which today’s judgement delivered in London is based – including Sir Brian Leveson, who oversaw a high-profile inquiry into press and media standards after the phone hacking scandal.
The application by Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Limited and other related Coventry City companies versus Coventry City Council came after they were last September given permission to appeal against a judge’s previous decision to refuse a High Court judicial review into the stadium sale in October 2014.
London-based hedge fund Sisu claimed at the High Court in Birmingham last July that the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s circa £19million stadium company sale unlawfully shortchanged the taxpayer under ‘state aid’ laws by around £30million, with an uncompetitive deal.
Sisu has suggested Wasps, already over £35million in debt, should pay the shortfall to the council.
The claim was rejected by a judge last July whose decision to refuse a judicial review hearing has now be been re-examined and upheld.
The ‘state aid’ claim was made on the basis that the stadium company, Arena Coventry Limited (ACL), was sold to then London Wasps Holdings Limited on a massively extended lease from 41 to 250 years.
ACL on the new lease term had later been independently valued at £48million. The £19million deal included just £1million for the lease extension, £2.77million each for the council and Higgs’ charity’s shares in ACL, and paying off the council’s loan.
A separate judicial review into an earlier Coventry City Council £14.4million taxpayer bailout of the Ricoh Arena was heard in 2014 – after a judge had initially refused to allow the hearing to take place.
Sisu had been successful in overturning that judgment, only to lose the subsequent judicial review, an appeal, and further attempts at appeal.
COUNCIL STATEMENT TODAY..
Joint statement from Councillor George Duggins, Leader of Coventry City Council and Cllr Gary Ridley, Leader of the Opposition Conservative Party, Coventry City Council:
“We are delighted with today’s judgment which once again justifies why we have robustly defended all claims brought by Sisu-related companies over recent years.
“Sisu has continually sought to re-open decisions taken by the Council more than four years ago on 7 October 2014. We have always remained steadfast in our belief that those decisions were appropriate, lawful and in the best interests of Coventry tax payers.
“We hope that this will be the last stage of the litigation and that Sisu will accept this as the end of all legal action so that further unnecessary costs are avoided for all parties involved.”