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Pontypool RFC responds to Torfaen County Borough Council statement

Wednesday 18th July 2018
 

Pontypool RFC is disappointed with the contents of the statement issued yesterday evening by Torfaen County Borough Council and wishes to correct a number of inaccuracies contained within it.

The following statement highlights key comments from Torfaen County Borough Council’s statement and offers Pontypool RFC’s detailed response as justification for why the club has elected to leave Pontypool Park at the earliest opportunity:

“At all times the council has tried to engage constructively and support the club’s aspirations, within available resources and following proper process. However, this has been made more difficult given an instruction in May to only contact the club via the Chief Executive’s solicitor.”

Pontypool RFC refutes the allegation that it has been “more difficult” for Torfaen County Borough Council to “engage constructively” and “support the club’s aspirations” following an instruction from Pontypool RFC’s Chief Executive Officer, Ben Jeffreys, for the local authority to contact the club via its legal team after talks between both parties broke down.

Pontypool RFC formally informed Torfaen County Borough Council on Thursday 3rd May 2018 of the club’s intention to leave Pontypool Park at the earliest opportunity, after the local authority continuously stated that they were no longer prepared to carry out previously agreed legal steps relating to an attempt to overturn the covenant that currently prevents a permanent fence from being erected around Pontypool Park.

The legal steps required to advance efforts to overturn the covenant were unanimously agreed by both Pontypool RFC and Torfaen County Borough Council in a meeting held on Thursday 29th March 2018.

In this meeting, Torfaen County Borough Council agreed to contact the vendors who are in benefit of the covenant, as Pontypool RFC is not a party to the original conveyance and holds no authority to make any such approach.

However, in subsequent correspondence sent to Pontypool RFC on Thursday 26th April 2018 and 27th April 2018, the local authority illustrated that they no longer considered it appropriate for them to contact the vendors.

Resigned to the fact that Torfaen County Borough Council were unwilling to carry out the previously agreed steps, Pontypool RFC requested that the local authority provide the contact details for the vendors of the covenant, to enable the club to make its own approach.

On Monday 30th April 2018, Torfaen County Borough Council responded only to provide the names of the vendors and not their formal correspondence addresses - despite Pontypool RFC already knowing their names - as this matter was discussed in the meeting held on Thursday 29th March 2018.

In correspondence dated Monday 30th April 2018, Pontypool RFC indicated to Torfaen County Borough Council that urgent action was required to resolve this matter, otherwise the club would have little choice other than to leave Pontypool Park at the earliest opportunity.

Pontypool RFC subsequently formally confirmed to Torfaen County Borough Council on Thursday 3rd May 2018 of its regrettable decision to leave Pontypool Park.

It is also pertinent to note that during this process, Torfaen County Borough Council had obtained a legal advice note prepared by a barrister (‘Counsel’s Opinion’), analysing how the legal issues have arisen and how the barrister thinks these can be resolved.

Pontypool RFC’s legal team have - on more than one occasion - requested a copy of this opinion, but Torfaen County Borough Council have declined - without explanation - to share it.

Pontypool RFC would have expected Torfaen County Borough Council to demonstrate transparency by issuing the club’s legal team with a copy of the opinion, even if any confidential information is redacted.

“The council’s legal team have made contact with the covenant vendors who have replied and this dialogue will continue as appropriate.”

As indicated above, Torfaen County Borough Council repeatedly stated to Pontypool RFC that it would not be appropriate for the local authority to make the necessary approach to the vendors.

Torfaen County Borough Council subsequently advised Pontypool RFC on Friday 13th July 2018 that the local authority had indeed established the formal correspondence addresses of the vendors, with an offer to contact them.

It is perhaps no co-incidence that this offer came a mere three hours after the South Wales Argus published the story; “Pontypool RFC announce plans to leave famous Pontypool Park home due to anti-social behaviour”.

Whilst Torfaen County Borough Council have finally contacted the vendors of the covenant, this action has come far too late and Pontypool RFC remain committed to leaving Pontypool Park at the earliest opportunity, as the club cannot continue to suffer from the consequences of anti-social behaviour for a prolonged period of time. It takes time to procure and develop any venue and the club cannot wait any longer to pursue a fresh opportunity.

“A planning application was submitted in 2014 but it never progressed. At this stage we have not received a renewed planning application and the planning advice given has been just that, advice, not a decision. The planning ball is very much in their court.”

Pontypool RFC considers it misleading of Torfaen County Borough Council to infer that “the planning ball is very much in their [Pontypool RFC’s] court” and that a planning application to erect a permanent fence around Pontypool Park submitted by the club in 2014 is in any way related to the recent impasse between both parties.

It is correct that Pontypool RFC did indeed submit a planning application to Torfaen County Borough Council in 2014, however this was submitted prior to the club being aware of the restrictions imposed by the covenant.

As soon as this situation became apparent to the club, the application was not pursued any further as it would have been impossible to advance the plans without the covenant being overturned. Accordingly, all efforts turned to attempting to address the covenant issue.

Pontypool RFC made clear in its statement yesterday that the club had submitted two extensive pre-application planning submissions to Torfaen County Borough Council, which included proposals to erect green medium-security weld-mesh fencing that was recommended in conjunction with Gwent Police. This exact fencing type has already been installed at the skate park adjacent to Pontypool Park.

In a response received to the club’s more substantial second submitted planning pre-application from Torfaen County Borough Council’s planning officers on Thursday 3rd May 2018, the local authority indicated that the proposed fencing would not be appropriate as it would aesthetically appear too industrial in style.

Pontypool RFC made several offers for the club and its instructed planning consultant to meet with Torfaen County Borough Council’s planning officers to discuss these complexities further, none of which were returned.

Whilst the club accepts that pre-application responses are purely advisory, Torfaen County Borough Council’s negativity towards a central part of the club’s development proposals rendered it impossible to devote further time and resource in seeking to reach a conclusion.

Pontypool RFC has already incurred professional fees of over £20,000 since initiating this process and the club is not prepared to continue to make what it considers to be a wasted investment.

“The council is a long standing supporter of the club, waiving the rent on the park when the club had financial difficulties, paying utility bills, undertaking urgent maintenance work when required for matches and supporting the clubs lease on the ground.”

Whilst it is correct that Torfaen County Borough Council were indeed supportive at times when Pontypool RFC was suffering from financial hardship, the club has since been stabilised and is performing admirably under the leadership of Peter and Ben Jeffreys.

During negotiations between Pontypool RFC and Torfaen County Borough Council regarding the challenges facing Pontypool Park, the local authority expressed a desire for Pontypool RFC to commit to signing a Licence Agreement that would devolve further responsibilities to the club in terms of maintaining the facility, including paying utility costs.

After several months of negotiations, Pontypool RFC and Torfaen County Borough Council reached agreement and both parties signed a Licence Agreement on Wednesday 14th February 2018.

Within the Licence Agreement, Pontypool RFC agreed - amongst other responsibilities – to

pay the local authority all costs in connection with the supply of electricity, gas, water, sewage, telecommunications and other services and utilities to or from Pontypool Park used by the club.

Since the Licence Agreement was signed, Pontypool RFC has not received any invoices relating to a demand for payment from Torfaen County Borough Council relating to costs in connection with use of Pontypool Park.

Despite Pontypool RFC’s reluctance to invest heavily in renovating Pontypool Park unless it was fully enclosed, the club has nevertheless made significant investments in maintaining the facility whilst it is in use.

In December 2013, Pontypool RFC spent over £15,000 renovating the internal spaces of Pontypool Park’s rugby ground, including the changing facilities and hospitality area.

Since July 2017, Pontypool RFC has spent £10,140 on pitch maintenance and in May 2018, committed to spending a further £4,920 on specialist pitch treatment in preparation for the club’s quest to achieve promotion to the Principality Premiership division next season.

In November 2017, Pontypool RFC spent £17,340 to renew the entire floodlighting system at Pontypool Park, as the previously installed floodlights no longer complied with the Welsh Rugby Union’s strict A Licence criteria.

The above financial commitments clearly indicate that Pontypool RFC is willing and able to maintain Pontypool Park in the immediate term and should Torfaen County Borough Council wish to accurately invoice the club for costs incurred since Wednesday 14th February 2018, the club will settle the amount in full.

Torfaen County Borough Council’s statement refers to “supporting the clubs [sic] lease on the ground”, however Pontypool RFC has never signed a lease arrangement with the local authority in relation to Pontypool Park. Had Pontypool RFC been successful in having its ambitious plans approved, the club would have invariably signed a long-term lease to take on even greater responsibilities at the ground.

Pontypool RFC trusts that the continued transparency indicated above demonstrates the club’s professionalism and thoroughness throughout this process and the club wishes to once again express its disappointment in the approach that Torfaen County Borough Council has taken in respect of this situation.

However, Pontypool RFC again wishes to extend its sincerest thanks to Torfaen County Borough Council’s leader, Anthony Hunt, who continues to work closely with the club throughout this process. It is clear that he has the best interests of the club at heart and for that, the club is grateful.

Pontypool RFC remains committed to departing Pontypool Park and all managerial focus has and will continue to turn towards locating and developing a new site at the earliest opportunity.

 

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