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Club’s in talks to buy Kenilworth Road back

By Lauren.Archell  |  Posted: October 07, 2012

Gary Sweet

Gary Sweet

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It’s been an issue that’s been rumbling on for decades - where should Luton Town FC future home be? At the weekend it emerged the club were in talks with the council over possibly buying back Kenilworth Road.

Lui Straccia looks at how the Hatters have tried - and failed - to get a ground move over the years.

 

How do you solve a problem like Luton Town’s home? Since most Hatters fans can remember, moving out of their current 10,226 capacity all-seater home at Kenilworth Road - or at least redeveloping it - has been a necessity.

The idea is that, if the club can house the thousands of spectators their fanbase can provide, the ensuing revenues would enable them to compete at a higher level.

But to get into a new stadium, of course, the club need the money to build one first.

And this is the chicken-andthe- egg problem facing the Hatters, who were relegated from the Football League in 2009.

Staying in Luton is obviously the preferred option, but these days the football world is teeming with clubs who have moved outside the borders of their community.

As things stand, Luton Town FC do not own their Kenilworth Road home, which opened in 1905.

They sold it to Luton Borough Council for £3.25 million in the late 1980s, at the height of the club’s dizzying success which involved a memorable 3-2 League Cup win over Arsenal.

Back then, the club had plans to relocate to a new stadium, and the council permitted the use of the ground for a short period of seven years on a rent free basis on the understanding the club would be actively planning to relocate.

The subsequent recession, change in the club’s fortunes and issues arising with the Junction 10a site due to the M1 Widening Scheme in the 1990s impacted upon the club’s plans.

A planning application for a new ground, the Kohlerdome proposed by then chairman David Kohler in 1995, was turned down by the Secretary of State in 1998.

Since then the club has gone into administration on three occasions, has had a number of different owners.

In 2007, the club’s owners proposed relocating to a site near Junction 12 of the M1 motorway, near Harlington and Toddington.

A planning application was made on the club’s behalf by former chairman Cliff Bassett, but the application was withdrawn almost immediately following the club’s takeover in 2008.

When the Luton2020 consortium bought the club in 2008 it said it would undertake an independent feasibility study to locate options for a new stadium within the Luton area, but relegation to non-League football in 2009 set back the study issue somewhat.

Since then there has been very little movement on the stadium front - until Saturday’s matchday programme in which club managing director Gary Sweet wrote: ‘Given the current market conditions and, in particular, the challenges faced by local authorities, we have acknowledged that, along with a significant investment in projects which have a valuable impact on community cohesion, clubs like ours may have a duty to support the council with a consideration in lieu of rent.

‘Having recently made an offer to the council in relation to this we have also made it known that we have a strong desire to put the ownership of Kenilworth Road back into the hands of the club, and have initiated discussions on that basis.

‘Additionally, while we cannot at this point rule out an eventual redevelopment of Kenilworth Road, the feasibility processes for an assessment of any relocation plans are now firmly afoot.’

In a statement the council said: ‘Luton Borough Council is the landowner of the Kenilworth Road site, and as landlords, we are in discussions with Luton Town FC (as tenants) about a number of issues relating to the ground.

‘Within those discussions, the club has identified as one of many options, the possibility that they may be interested in buying the freehold of the site at a point in the future.

‘This, together with other options in relation to their lease arrangements, remain to be discussed further with councillors.

Currently the site is not on the disposal list and does not have a purchase value attached to it.’

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