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Council offical speaks out over ground share block row.

Byline: Simon Gilbert Chief reporter simon.gilbert@coventrytelegraph.net

A TOP official says Coventry City Council was trying to "flush out details" after leaked documents emerged which seemed to show an attempt to block Coventry City from playing at Butts Park Arena. The email from the council's legal department to Coventry Rugby Club suggested specifically barring football being played at the ground as part of negotiations to alter a lease at the stadium.

Coventry Rugby Club is in talks with the Sky Blues to ground share at an expanded Butts Park, where the city council owns the freehold and leases the ground to Coventry Rugby Properties LLP, owned by former player Chris Millerchip.

There is also a sub lease held by Cov RFC chairman Jon Sharp for operation of the pitch and stand, but that limits their use to rugby only, a clause inserted along with a token rent to protect the rugby club after a troubled period.

The council is powerless to stop Mr Sharp obtaining the head lease and then changing the terms of the sub lease to allow the Sky Blues to move to Butts Park.

But any change in rent between the two leases must be approved by the council and negotiations are said to be ongoing.

Rumours of a ground share at Butts Park Arena first emerged last year but were denied in public by Mr Sharp.

He confirmed to the Telegraph this week that talks with the Sky Blues had started this year. Coventry City said in a statement that talks were "long-dated".

A leaked email to the rugby club in January 2016, said the council wanted a new clause inserted which would specifically prevent "professional association football or training associated therewith" in exchange for making other changes to the sub-lease.

The Telegraph asked Nigel Clews, assistant director of property and asset management at Coventry City Council, why they had tried to insert the clause at that time.

He said: "No, it doesn't look good. But we were trying to flush out details. We wanted to bring the issue out. Media reports had circulated that there could be a potential ground share with Coventry City. But Mr Sharp had previously told us during meetings that this was out of the question.

"A few months later we received a three-year plan for Butts Park Arena that included a ground share with Coventry City."

A letter from April 2016, seen by the Telegraph, from Mr Clews to the legal team of Mr Sharp clarifies that the authority could not prevent the transfer of the head lease. Mr Clews has also clarified that the council can not force Mr Sharp to add any additional clauses to the sub-lease. The letter adds that any decision over amending the peppercorn rent would have to be made by elected councillors in public and not behind closed doors.

The letter reads: "The request from you as underlessee and prospective assignee to vary the terms of the underlease so that a rent passes between the head lessee and the underlessee is within the discretion of the Council to consent to or not as it would vary the protection for Coventry Rugby Limited previously secured. It also paves the way for the wider development of the Butts Stadium.

"In the light of the information now provided in respect of your three-year plan, which was not provided at the time of your original request in June of last year, the decision to change the underlease dated August 27, 2010 is of public interest, and is one that should be taken openly through a formal decision of the council at a cabinet or cabinet member meeting."

City owners have until today to launch appeal The Court of Appeal will then decide if they will allow the appeal to take place.

COVENTRY City FC owners Sisu have until 4pm today to appeal against their latest defeat in the ongoing legal battle over the Ricoh Arena.

judge Justice Hickinbottom which cleared the council of any wrongdoing after a three-day hearing in Birmingham during June 2014.

If the Court of Appeal refuses Sisu's application to appeal, the club's owners could choose to seek permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court.

Sisu recently suffered a defeat at the Court of Appeal when their lawyers challenged a previous judgment from High Court If permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is sought, Coventry City Council would have until May 25 to respond.
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 20, 2016
Words:743
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