We want the Everton Stadium Plan to come off but there are many, many questions that need to be answered.
Just to avoid doubt and to stop the spread the circulation of malicious rumours I want to see Everton develop a new stadium and I believe that, in principle, the North Docks are the best place to do it. Having two big clubs in Liverpool is clearly in the interest of every tax payer. Just look at the hotels, bars, shops and restaurants when either of the clubs are playing in town. They add a lot of money directly to our communities; add a lot of money through the business rates which will now keep all of and add a huge amount to the prestige of the City. The Bramley Moore Dock area clearly needs something big to kick start as the Albert Dock kick-started the redevelopment of the South Docks 30+ years ago.
I say these things because it is now my task, as an opposition councillor to hold the controlling Party (in this case the Mayor) to account and ask questions about this and any other time when they propose to spend money or in other ways commit the resources of the Council.
It seems to me that the very brief report on such a complex matter leaves many questions unanswered. Here are just some of them.
- Why is a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ needed for a transaction that should be relatively simple? Club builds stadium, club uses stadium!
- Why do billionaires (the ones who now own EFC) need a guarantee from a third party? In fact why do they need a loan at all? Surely they should be able to fund the development either from their own resources or by giving ‘mortgages’ against their own existing assets. This would not enable the Council to make a profit from the deal but would be cheaper for the owners. Does the Council know what assets the Club and its owners have available to them?
- What assets are available to the council to use against a guarantee if, for any reason, work stopped on the development before the stadium was completed. The owners of EFC come from a very difficult region of the world and who knows what might happened in that area within the next 2 or 3 years that might prevent them fully committing to the Club as it is now never mind as it will appear throughout development. The report only talks about the loan being secured against the rental income. But if there is no rental income?!
- What will happen to EFC’s current ground? I understand that it will have a negative value when the club and its revenue stream move out. It will costs more to develop and remediate the land than the land will be sold for.
- What will happen to those pubs, snack bars etc. who currently make a considerable part of their income from the EFC presence? Will they be given preference for the new facilities around the new ground and will they be able to afford it?
- How much will the public sector need to put in to make this work? The report makes clear that the Club needs no finance from the Council for the stadium but who is going to pay for everything else? There will need to be a huge investment in roads; transport; a new station; new services and general infrastructure to mean that the stadium is accessible and useable. To develop the L1 shopping centre the private sector put in £1.1 billion. But the public sector put in £100 million for infrastructure which is in a better shape that that in the North Docks.
- What will the costs be to the public sector for this external activity? Given that a large amount of the money for L1 public works came from the EU, a source no longer available to us, will the money have to come from other road etc? Programmes for which there is already little cash in the pot?
- Why is there no consideration being given to the vital infrastructure questions in this report. Do we know what is needed? Have we any idea of the costs of the programme of action which will ensue?
As I said at the outset the Liberal Democrats wish this scheme well. We want it to work. But at the moment there are too many questions which have not been answered in the report. Questions that could come back to haunt both us and Everton.
Just remember some of the problems with other clubs:
- Northampton Borough Council appears to have lost £10 million on an so-called investment in their local team’s plans for a new stadium.
- Leeds City Council has twice lost money on investing in Leeds FC when they tried to provide help to keep Leeds in the top flight and top earnings levels.
- We all know the problems with Manchester Utd when new owners failed to put their own money in and instead, in that case, piled the debt on the club in a way that proved to be unsustainable.
The Liberal Democrats are asking these questions not because we want to stop then proposals but because we want to ensure that it proceeds on a firm footing. This is a minimum 40 year deal for the council. We must get it right.