The views in these blogs are those held by the individual blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of Everton Football Club.
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After 36 days of evidence, the Public Inquiry came to a finale last Friday with a last-day-of-term atmosphere appreciated by all sides. Our barrister concluded with a series of football clichés and the Inspector responded with her version of the BAFTAs. All parties agreed that the Inquiry had been conducted in good spirit and with good order and all parties recognised the patience, good humour and diligence of the Inspector. We almost swapped shirts!
As reported by the Club over the past few months, we've been satisfied with our contribution to the Inquiry, and the evidence and support provided by our partners. We've deliberately ‘bitten our lips' when some of the objectors have ‘gone public' on unsubstantiated or misinformed reasons to oppose the Kirkby scheme. We also kept our counsel when, in our view, certain sections of the media have misunderstood or misreported events. Now the official business has finished, it's time to come off the fence and for the first time express our opinion and our version of events.
Cutting straight to the chase, the Club is more convinced than ever that for the foreseeable future, Kirkby is the only viable stadium option for Everton Football Club. Despite fanciful and extravagant claims to the contrary, I would urge you not to believe that we can build a new stand at Goodison without major risk and substantial cost; not to believe we can build an expanded new stadium on the Goodison site without a time-consuming and uncertain ‘land grab' and a significant, unachievable price-tag; and, not to believe there is an alternative site, within the City boundaries, that comes with the financial support that makes it even remotely viable and deliverable. We might not want to hear it but no credible evidence was presented in support of these schemes. Not one of these stadium options is real.
As ever, affordability is a major issue. Off our own back, we do not have the financial wherewithal to build a new stadium. We have battled with this problem for well over 10 years and it remains the case that we will be unable to build a new stadium unless it is substantially funded by third-party support. There are no magical funding strategies and the Club has not been myopic or unimaginative on funding options; please don't believe that 30-storey, five-star hotels will pay our bills; that we can re-name Goodison Park and raise the £millions generated by a new site; and that we can find 10,000 Evertonians willing to invest £23,000 each (or 100,000 fans and £2,300) to raise the £230m we'd need, on very optimistic estimates, to build an expanded Goodison. Again, not what we might wish to hear but no credible evidence was presented in support of these funding schemes. Not one of these funding options will meet our needs.
All the above views are supported by highly-qualified experts and claims that their views are tainted by vested interest, biased ‘briefs' or ulterior motives are both objectionable and incorrect. Unfortunately, and unlike other proposed schemes being put forward, the Club does not have the option of building the stadium of our dreams, on the site of our choice, with money no object. We live in the real world. We have to. A world where we have to be accountable and responsible, where every penny has to be earned and all investment must deliver a return.
Contrary to an extraordinary statement by KEIOC, this is not about Bill Kenwright ‘making a turn' on his investment. The Chairman has always made it clear that all he ever wants, and indeed has ever wanted, is for the Club to grow in stature for the sake of its players and staff, but most of all, for its fans.
It is patently obvious that this can only happen by taking the Club forward financially, by growing its commercial worth, by generating more money to secure better and better playing resources. Kirkby will only increase the value of the Club if it's successful and if we're competing at the top-level in which case the objectives of the fans and shareholders are fully aligned (of course, indisputably, our owners are also fans of the highest order). Kirkby has never been about the Chairman ‘making a quick buck'.
The Inquiry saw some revealing admissions and conclusions which deserve greater prominence:
- The double standards displayed when, despite attacking Everton's ability to fund Kirkby, Liverpool City Council confirmed it had never seen proof of funding before granting Liverpool FC's Stanley Park permission.
- Liverpool City Council re-confirmed that Liverpool FC had ruled out Loop/Bestway along with every other site put forward by them, prior to granting permission on Stanley Park.
Liverpool City Council's planners agreed with our experts that there is no viable and deliverable alternative site within the City boundaries.
- It was agreed by KEIOC's witness that HOK's report on the Bestway/Loop site was timed to influence the Kirkby ballot and that its ‘persuasive' content - drafted in 48 hours - was concluded in collaboration with Liverpool City Council and KEIOC's architectural adviser.
- The cost of the Bestway/Loop site, estimated at £230m, had been determined by KEOIC based on nothing more than the published costs of other ‘similar' stadia. Cost was not part of the HOK brief.
In the face of an ever-changing, increasingly wealthy Premier League where billionaires spend without check or where Arsenal earns £2m more than Everton on every home game, we have this choice:
- 1) We stay at Goodison and make cosmetic changes that deliver marginal returns. We won't be able to remove pillars, we can't add capacity and we can't add new hospitality, and we extend our ten-plus years' search. We could hope for the ‘billionaire' - although I'm not sure whether any of the new billionaire owners have built a major stadium? And, we can wait until we or Liverpool City Council or someone else can find a significant funding partner, prepared to make a multi-million pounds investment in our City and our Club.
- Or, 2) we take the Kirkby option. It might be argued that during our 10 year search, we have identified potentially more attractive sites but, of course, none have been viable; Kirkby is. Kirkby is a deliverable, modern, stadium, sited within the ‘Greater Liverpool region' (with an ‘L' postcode and a 0151 STD code) , that will make a significant, positive difference to our Club, and to our future. Kirkby a high-specification stadium that will take us off the bottom of the stadium league table, position us at the right end and, even better, 40% of the cost is picked up by someone else. It will make a material difference to the Manager's spending power and accordingly, a significant difference to our ability to compete at the highest level.
In reality, there is no choice. Option one will lead to gradual decline and diminishing competitiveness. Option two, subject to planning permission, is ready to be grasped.
We're known for many things including being straightforward in or dealings, being bold and being ambitious, let's not abandon these traditions; let's not fail future Evertonians.
Take our destiny in our hands or cross-fingers and hope?
Before signing off, you might be interested to read the relevant section of our barrister's summary presented to the Inspector on Friday.
Everton Football Club
1. The need for the club to move is an important component of the regenerative impetus. It has been in existence since 1878 and whatever the disagreements at the inquiry it is clear from such as Mr Elstone, KEIOC and others, that it is a proud club. It has had many years of success and has played the most games in the highest divisions of English football. It is a club which historically has been prepared to adapt and grasp modernity. It was host to World Cup games at Goodison Park 43 years ago because they had up to date facilities - a description which cannot be applied now.
2. It is a truism that a football club like any other business is not isolated from modern commercial pressures. EFC and its business at Goodison Park, in simple economic terms, depend on adequacy of ‘production goods' in the team and the stadium which will drive the success or otherwise of the club. Success is judged by what is achieved on the pitch and whether a sufficient number of spectators have an experience which is good enough to make them return, and also to attract others. If neither is achieved the club will atrophy over time and that is a course none seriously can wish. There is concern over the cycle of decline. Lack of investment or opportunity to invest means that the club will reduce its effectiveness.
3. Combined with that is the general planning approach that it is desirable that a recreational experience which is enjoyed by large numbers of the public should be located, presented and managed in a manner which is adequate and sustainable. That is not unique to EFC but has prevailed to allow Liverpool FC to plan a move into a new stadium in historic Stanley Park. The advantages overwhelmed the disadvantages in the public interest. Other clubs have undertaken recent moves elsewhere in the country.
4. Whenever any club is to move it will be beset by financial issues of affordability. Football clubs perhaps have a different business model to other commerce. Many boards are composed of enthusiasts who are prepared to put up their money to fund the club in one form or another with little or no material return and who are prepared to accept that close involvement with the hoped for success of their passion is dividend enough.
- 5. Somehow that has been the currency of many clubs for many years and EFC is no exception historically and currently. Some clubs have been sold to highly affluent investors from overseas. They are a finite band particularly, it is reasonable to assume, in the current financial market. They are not necessarily a panacea for resolving money problems since they too have to raise money and service the debt. Nevertheless as Mr Elstone told, since Mr Kenwright became Chairman in 2004 the club, like many, has been for sale. Nobody has been appointed to sell the club and to the knowledge of the CEO there is no buyer for the club.
- 6. The decision should be taken on the basis that the club's financial structure will continue as it is currently - unable to fund a move to a new stadium or indeed a rebuild of a current stadium without subsidy from another source.
7. Thereafter it is a specious suggestion that EFC should stay where they are or that they are trying to steal a march on their competitors by constructing a stadium they cannot afford. That is Luddite business planning of ‘do nothing and it will be alright'. On the contrary, as above, EFC are investing in the future like any business by raising finance for a stadium which will provide one of the best customer experiences in the country (and indeed as good as Wembley if not better). The new stadium will serve the existing season ticket holders given that 75% of the current holders live within 12 miles which is 1% more than for Goodison Park.
8. Perhaps the inconsistency of the opposition approach at the inquiry is typical of the general position on football clubs and football stadia. Everyone is an expert. Like all self - appointed experts they cannot agree. Some suggest a smaller stadium and some a larger. Some accede to a move, others do not. Whatever, the conclusion is invited that Goodison Park is inadequate. That has not appeared to be controversial.
- 9. Mr Skempton for KEIOC told Mr Keirle that GP is a "horrible experience for non football fans" and he suggested that revealed ‘a gender imbalance' which should be addressed. Mr Skempton's views are on behalf of KEIOC but an objective view can corroborate it to some extent when the following indicative characteristics are addressed:
- i. Lack of capacity and opportunity for expansion;
- ii. Spectator viewing experience with 53% of the stadium having obstructed views;
- iii. Corporate facilities well below those of competitor clubs; and
iv. Concourse facilities constrained and underprovided.
- 10. That is confirmed by the Premier League Fans Survey which make gloomy reading for the club since it is only in the category of quality and range of food and drink that the club is removed from around the bottom of the league and that must be because they are not dependent on the stadium but the skill of the staff.
- 11. The decision has been taken to move and EFC have been looking for more than 10 years during which nothing has matured into a solution and the Goodison Park stadium conditions have got worse, particularly in comparison with its peers. The decision was not taken without the approbation of supporters and shareholders. There were three ballots and an EGM to address the issue. All concluded in favour of a move. Mr Elstone described a unique set of circumstances which will enable EFC to provide a new stadium which is affordable and deliverable.
- 12. The search was explained by Mr Potts, and the DPP work corroborated it by looking even wider to satisfy the requirements of environmental assessment. No site is seriously suggested by those trawls. The following conclusions are invited:
- i. The site must be big enough to do the job of accommodating a stadium for 50,000 spectators with the possibility of 60,000 to modern standards of concourse and approaches;
- ii. There is no site in Liverpool City as has been shown by the Council being satisfied by LFC on three occasions, including 2008, that there was no alternative to Stanley Park;
- iii. No site out with the City is seriously proffered before the inquiry;
- iv. PPS 17 requires that a stadium should be close to transportation facilities;
- v. It is not an issue ultimately for decision whether it is right for EFC to move. None can require them to stay. The decision is whether or not the location is appropriate for a new stadium; and
- vi. EFC must be in a position to afford the stadium. Mr Elstone revealedhow they think they can proceed and what they can afford. It is cautious and not excessive. At £130m it is substantially less ambitious than Liverpool FC's budget of £350m of which Mr Burchnall told he had never seen a financial appraisal.
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