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Tyne Talk

Exclusive: Ashley Attempts To Sell Off Future Of Newcastle United On Cheap

8 years ago
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In a statement released today, the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) have revealed that they’ve discovered Mike Ashley has quietly put plans in place for a very quick sell-off of a lease on land belonging to Newcastle United, next to St James Park.

Under the Hall/Shepherd administration, one of the good things that they did do was invest in land around St James Park with a view to possible further expansion of the stadium.

As part of this strategy they bought a long lease on land behind the Gallowgate end, which would allow for a major increase in capacity if the time ever came where it was viable/essential to accommodate increased demand. With the Milburn and Leazes sides of the ground developed to their full potential, and the East Stand capped due to Leazes Terrace behind it, the Gallowgate is the only part of St.James’ Park that could could possibly be increased.

However, Mike Ashley has laid plans to sell the lease quietly and with potential bidders expected to be almost certain to be developers looking to build hotel or student accommodation. Once any deal is finalised and anything built on the land, it would mean any chance of further expansion would be lost forever, not just for our generation but all future generations.

Bear in mind we are still getting a 50,000 average after near relegation last season and over 43,000 averaged when in the Championship in 2009/10 – you just never know what is around the corner, just look at Manchester City.

This quick grab of money by Ashley is likely to amount to a few million at the very most according to estimates, is that what the future of our football club is worth?

Here is the statement from NUST;

‘Recent statements from Newcastle United accompanying the release of the latest accounts, have called upon supporters to demonstrate patience with the stated intention of growing the club in a sensible and sustainable manner.

Putting aside several concerns regarding the drastic shrinkage of commercial income and the free advertising given to Mike Ashley’s companies. There is now great concern that the potential growth of the club, namely through tapping into Newcastle United’s greatest asset: it’s support, is at risk through an appalling plan to put in jeopardy any potential expansion of St James’ Park at the Gallowgate End of the ground – the only possible part of the stadium where future expansion could realistically occur.

In 1998 previous directors of the club had wisely leased the land around St James’ Metro Station on  a long term basis in order to secure any future development opportunity.

However, last autumn Newcastle United Holdings Limited –the parent company of NUFC, instructed Newcastle based agents Storey, Edward , Simmons to sell the lease on the land. Bids were invited with a deadline in December 2013 and it is understood that final unconditional bids are now under consideration.

It is thought developers would be looking likely to build student accommodation on the site but the whole site, which runs to Strawberry Place, could be developed by the preferred developer.

Were any buildings to be constructed on that site, it  would then mean development/extension (of the type completed at the Leazes and Milburn sides of St James’ Park) at the Gallowgate End of St James’ Park would be near impossible. Given there is no way of developing the East Stand due to the listed status of many buildings on Leazes and St James’ Terraces,  that would mean there’d be no feasible way of extending the stadium.

In short, St James’ Park would be locked into its current capacity. United are currently attracting the third largest attendances in the country of 50,000+ (an average home attendance of 43,384 even when in the Championship – season 2009/10). Given that the club’s on-field performance is mediocre at best, it greatly suggests that our club is capable of attracting at least another 10,000+ were the club to perform better than it is currently, and attract more support, as well as persuade the currently disaffected to return to the stands.

If building on the land in question proceeds, any future ambitions to extend St James’ Park and increase its long term income (critical under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules) will be impossible. Selling this land illustrates the cramping lack of commitment and ambition there is from Mike Ashley towards Newcastle United, while it is also a cap on the capability of future owners of the club to develop the club further.

None of this looks like being part of a strategy to have a growing, sustainable football club that is doing everything it can to increase its own income and thus its sporting competitiveness. It looks very much like part of a plan to asset strip Newcastle United Football Club and make short-term decisions that are in the interests of the owner, rather than the long-term future of the club.

What can be done now to oppose the sale is unclear but the Newcastle United Supporters Trust will be seeking to explore how we can oppose any future applications from potential developers.

The Trust would have liked to have raised these matters with the club at the Fans Forum but NUST remains banned, while correspondence on other matters with directors at the club appear to be currently ignored.

Draw your own conclusions as to what is going on at St James’ Park.’

We would everybody to consider joining NUST and help fight for the future of our football club and the future of all Newcastle United supporters.

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