Paul Davis welcomed members to the meeting and explained briefly about changes to the Trust membership for junior and family members.
2. Site Overview
Tony Norris showed maps of the proposed site along with developers plans showing two options for the layout of the development. A Video of the site was then played
showing the various stages of development of the forest and the views of Swindon that can be seen from within the existing site.
3. Presentation by Swindon Forest Protection Group
John Doyle first explained the progress of the forest was being done in three stages. The Forest is currently 10 years into a 30 year plan. The main reason the Protection Group are opposed
to the stadium development is because the site already has a purpose which many people have put time and effort into which they do not want to see lost. They are "miffed" with the council for going back on promises to
the community which were backed up with public money. They have no gripe with the football club but feel better sites for a stadium could be found.
4. Councillor Justin Tomlinson
Justin began by explaining that as a member of the Trust he would have to declare an interest and would not be able to vote on the Stadium scheme in council. This meant that he was in a position to talk openly about the proposals now unlike most other councilors.
As no planning application has been received, no decision has been made by the council. The three political groups are officially neutral on the plans and will decide their position when detailed plans are put forward. All of the candidates for the upcoming elections in the immediate area have declared their opposition to the scheme.
Justin also stated that in his opinion, the scheme would be too big to be decided by the council themselves like the Front Garden development but would probably go to a decision by John Prescott. The decision will then come down to arguments made for and against by local residents with the council also having a role in putting their own case before the minister.
The new sporting facilities would be good for the Town. Swindon has been allocated 10,000 new houses by central government and these would have to go somewhere. Houses cannot be built on former landfill sites so the attraction of the stadium for the council would be to free up the County Ground site for housing. The Land currently has a very low monetary value compared other possible green field sites which could make it financially viable for the club.
Justin went on to suggest that perhaps a middle ground could be found whereby some of the sports village facilities were omitted or sited elsewhere in the town so that much of the forest could be retained along with the stadium
4. Mark Devlin : Swindon Town chief executive
Swindon Town's chief executive Mark Devlin then addressed the meeting. He stated that the club could, at best, exist as an average division two club while they were at the County Ground. Redeveloping the County Ground would be difficult if not impossible due to local residents objection.
Planning objections had also been raised when the Front Garden had been considered for a stadium, and also at all other suggested sites. There would be objections wherever the club wanted to relocate. The new stadium would put the club back at the heart of the community and able to pay its bills. Around half a million pounds has been paid to the council in rent and rates in the past 2 years and the club does not currently owe the council any money.
The club has to be able to stand on its own two feet. There is no "Jack Walker" figure to bankroll the club. The new stadium would enable the club to do that and build the fan base.
Mark revealed that two years ago in a meeting with Swindon council the then council leader Sue Bates first raised the Shaw Tip site as a possible location for a new stadium.
Following from the consultation done so far about 10 key issues, notably traffic, have been raised. These will be looked at by experts from the developers to come up with ways to overcome the objections. The Football club do not see it as a done deal but there are no alternative sites on the agenda at present. If the Shaw site falls through the club will have to go back to the drawing board.
Partly thanks to St Modwens, the debenture issue has been cleared. This was essential to getting a developer on board as with the debenture hanging over the club no potential partners could be sure the club would survive long enough to see any development through.
The development is about more than just a football stadium. It also brings sporting facilities to the community which is important in making the club a real part of the community again.
5. Questions from the floor
Questions were then asked by the Trust members in attendance. The answers reproduced here are prefixed with the initials of the person answering the question. (MD : Mark Devlin, JT : Justin Tomlinson, JD : John Doyle, AH : Alan Hayward
The reason most of us are here is just for the football stadium which is about a quarter of the plan. Is it possible to have just the stadium and not the rest?
MD : We don't know at present, this could still be discussed. Speedway has already been dropped from the plan due to the noise issue. The council want to increase the sporting facilities for the Town generally which is part of the attraction of the sports village
There are rumours that the club will need to vacate the County Ground before the new stadium is built, can you confirm or deny that?
MD : That wont happen, its never been part of the plan at all.
The land has already been allocated for a forest for many years. What investigation has been done into possible planning or legal issues with changing its usage?
MD : St Modwens are specialists in this type of development and have done a lot of groundwork. They did not see any reason not to go public with the plans at this stage.
JT : The council must give a fair hearing to any planning application. Even thought the land is already in use, the council may decide to change that based on the merits of the planning application.
Over the last two years it could have been pointed out to the club that the site was already in use as a forest and not just a landfill site
JT : It may have been mentioned but it may have been felt that developing the Shaw site was the lesser of the evils. Some form of compromise will have to be looked at. If a balance can be found this might be the least overall impact. I couldn't think of any other site the club could afford without a "Jack Walker" type of benefactor.
If the stadium announcement had come after 11th June (After local elections) would councilors be in favour?
JT : When the announcement was first made lots of councilors were in favour. Then the campaign against sprang into action and a lot of councilors became opposed or at best are now neutral. Very few councilors are now in favour
Can you explain the new rules coming in for Division Two clubs that limit the percentage of income that can be spent on wages and how much extra income could the new stadium be worth to the club?
MD : Last season it applied to Division Three only, From next season Division Two clubs will have to prepare a budget to submit to the Football League. There is a wage cap for players and managerial staff of 60% of turnover. We will operate on between 40 and 50% of turnover partly because of the cost of running an old stadium
It is early to say but the new stadium would be expected to boost turnover by £1.5 - 2 million which would represent about a 50% increase. This includes matchday and non-matchday income.
The new stadium will be owned by the holding company jointly owned by St Modwen and the Wills Family. What happens if the ownership changes? What would prevent another "Donnegan and Blatchley" type from coming in?
MD : The holding company is owned 50% by St Modwen and 50% by the Wills family, Sir Seton has taken a backward step and James Wills is really their representative now. The setup is 50% each so St Modwen could not put pressure on the club in the same way as the old debenture even if they wanted to.
In my opinion the new arrangement would be more secure than the current one as the council have in the past talked about shutting the club down. The council will be invited to take a stake in the new company too.
Council involvement does provide some protection because they are answerable to the fans. How interested are the council likely to be in the joint venture?
JT : The council probably wont be able to afford to invest in the new company but if the money was available in principal they would like to. Council ownership does not necessarily offer protection to the club.
AH : Council Leader Mike Bawden said recently that the council had effectively put over £3 million into the club in recent years
If the planning process takes a long time it could be an expensive process. How much will the football club have to pay?
MD : There were substantial legal bills for settling the debenture issue which the club had to pay. Without settling that the club could not have got a developer on board. Apart from that there will be no expense to the club. the new site will not cost the club anything. Its highly unlikely the council will agree to the plans immediately, there are likely to be changes made.
JT : If councilors want to reject the scheme they must do so for valid technical or legal reasons. There are very strict guidelines and it can be taken to appeal. For example, most councilors opposed the Front Garden development but legal advice was that the developers would win on appeal so it was passed.
JD : The Shaw site is a test bed for regeneration of landfill sites. It is the best example of this type of site in the UK.
Were you surprised by the strength of feeling against the proposal?
MD : Probably yes but wherever we build there would be opposition.
As the Football club is now a subsidiary of Swindon Town FC Limited (owned by the Wills Family) any money spent would come from the joint venture company not the football club?
MD : That is correct
A question for the forest group. Has there ever been a vote taken among your members to see if they are opposed to the stadium in general or just on that particular site?
JD : We are only a small group. We don't have the resources for that.
MD : When we did the consultation in the Sparcells area we did note that a lot of people were in favour of the scheme but not at that site.
If the application takes 2 years or more could St Modwen pull out?
MD : It could happen. If there was a good reason why it would fail St Modwen would pull out. They would not put money into the venture if they didn't think it would go ahead.
At this point, Mark Devlin had to leave the meeting
(To SFPG) Its such a vast expanse of land. Is there any room for compromise?
AH : No. All three phases of the forest have been promised they are already allocated. Bear in mind that if you stand on top it was designed to be the highest point around. You can see right into the town centre. The compromise wouldn't make any difference the noise pollution would still be there
JT : The forest proposal includes an amphitheatre. Wouldn't that have similar issues?
AH : The speedway track was removed because of noise. The stadium would be more disruptive in terms of noise and light. Jonathan Porrit visited the site recently and commented on the terrible waste, asbestos, clinical waste etc... on the site that you couldn't even think about disturbing. The forest is turning a site that has been ruined into something for the community.
JT : I can understand about the traffic / noise etc.. but the government have said we must build housing we cannot stop that. If we don't build there it will have to go somewhere else.
AH : You cant build houses on landfill so how can you build hotels or anything else?
JT : When the Front Garden was proposed. The Front Garden Pressure Group said "don't build here, build on brown field instead".
AH : There is a much bigger argument about why we need all this extra housing
Is the forest fully funded?
AH : Yes it is sponsored by local businesses the council and the forestry commission.
JT : It isn't self financing the council put money into it.
On the Front Garden did the main source of opposition say they did not object to a stadium on its own?
JT : The council cannot just give land away. It would cost about £ 30million just to but the land on a green field site. That is why the club want to use Shaw
AH : Current value for the land is £ 3,000 per acre. With planning permission that would be £ 1.6million per acre
There is a lot of opposition to this proposal. How does this compare to the opposition to development at the County Ground?
JT : Like all councilors, I was very surprised by the reaction. The football club hasn't put its case forward very well It will be interesting to see what happens at the protest march on Saturday. Football fans will have to decide if they want a new stadium because this is probably the only chance they will get
(To SFPG) If you are successful you could be putting the club out of business
AH : The club may not be any better off at the new stadium. The rent may be the same as it is now.
JT : Clubs don't just make money on match days.
It was decided to hold two votes. One if the Trust is in favour of a new stadium in principal, and a second if the Trust is in favour of the new stadium at the Shaw Tip site.
That the Trust should be in favour of a new stadium in principal was carried by a majority of 10 votes.
That the Trust should be in favour of a new stadium at Shaw Tip was carried by a majority of 1 vote.