Formal Response to Hastings Borough Council’s Statement

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On behalf of Hastings United Football Club, Daren Burney and Peter Sherlock (co-owners) wish to put on record a formal response to the statement issued by Hastings Borough Council regarding the Tilekiln Stadium on Friday 15th March 2022 as follows:-

As most will know the Club submitted an outline Planning Application to relocate to Tilekiln back in October 2020. This followed a formal Cabinet decision at a meeting on 5th November 2018 wherein the Council agreed to the sale of the Pilot Field and the grant of a lease on Tilekiln. The Club was encouraged to work up plans and specifications as well as a comprehensive business case, which was subsequently approved by the Council’s own auditors. The club was also asked to fund legal fees to work up a formal agreement.

This was all positive as the Club had a failed attempt at relocation to Bulverhythe due to the joint venture house-builder withdrawing from the project. This was subsequently followed by Horntye Park. The latter was dropped at the request of the Council and the option of Tilekiln then became the preferred location as set out in the above Cabinet report.

The basis of the relocation would be the development of the Pilot Field for badly needed housing, both for private sales and a fully compliant element of social housing.

The revenue from this would go towards funding the Tilekiln new stadium and improved sporting & education facility.  Available grant funding and gap funding shortfalls were being provided by the club owners to make such a scheme deliverable and a success.

The club totally refute any suggestion that there were certain criteria which had not been met to allow a sale of Pilot Field and lease grant on Tilekiln. The club had agreed to enter a 125-year lease with the Council at a commercial rate equivalent to the commercial rent the club currently pays for the Pilot Field. This was to ensure no financial disadvantage would be incurred.

The club were encouraged to submit planning applications for both the Pilot Field and Tilekiln, whilst the legal mechanics were worked out between the Council and the club

To date, in excess of, £200,000 has been expended by the club owners to fund such applications.

The planning process has been running for more than 17 months and during this time, the club were repeatedly asked to provide more and more reports and information, at our expense. Our planning team commented on several occasions that they had never experienced an outline application like this regarding the level of information being sought.

Consistently, the Local Authority waited until the eleventh-hour before each application was due to go before the Planning Committee to request further reports.

It was conspicuous to the club that council politics were at play here to frustrate and postpone our applications going to the Committee for a vote.

The latest promise, as validated by a number of emails from the Planning Department was a committee date of the 23rd March 2022, only to be notified that the Council required yet a reptile report, thus deferring to a new and still later committee date of the

20th April 2022; this is despite being in receipt of the ecology report for many months.

There upon, the club issued the statement on the Hastings United Football Club website and relevant media channels to justly notify our supporters of the position we found ourselves in.

Undoubtedly had we not made a public statement, the 20th April 2022 would have expired unceremoniously, again, without the applications ever being heard.

In our collective experience working for both public and private schemes, we simply have no doubt in our minds that the Council conspired to circumvent and defer the process to beyond the May elections, to suit their own agenda.

Councillor Paul Barnett’s statement released last Friday18th March is factually incorrect and  misleading. Our proposals for the Tilekiln site include local community free access and pitch use conjointly with the significant number of local football teams committed to the project and currently playing at Tilekiln – Rock-A-Nore FC, Peche Hill Select FC & St. Leonards Social FC. Much discussion and collaboration was also had with Hollington United to 3G ground share as well as branding and naming but they choose not to commit despite offering at our cost to provide a suitable grade 3G pitch for their use, it must be put on record in the last year both clubs have opened the door and discussed again the possibility of Hollington United using as above. Sedlescombe Rangers FC were also negotiated with regarding a 3G pitch ground share.

The main thrust of what seems to be Councillor Barnett’s solo decision to scrap Tilekiln was to maintain free access and preserve open space; this is in itself most interesting given the Council has just granted itself planning consent for 140 houses and the sale of Harrow Playing fields being the largest open space in the North of the Borough.

In addition, Hastings United agreed to take on the full cost of managing the facility and therefore reducing a considerable contingent liability for the council in terms of the annual cost of maintaining such a site.

We currently run 29 teams at Hastings United Academy including, Boys and Girls Youth Programme, Women and Men and disability groups who will all now loose out due to, what appears to be a single ward member decision.

In the seven years of our Ownership of the club, we have seen little investment actually delivered in Hastings Borough, nor any comprehensive strategic plan for regeneration.

Unless there is a real change in attitude and in the decision making of the local council, we struggle to see any kind of positive transformation.

The Club are now considering legal action and a judicial review against Hastings Borough Council for the recovery of their costs of both Planning Applications should either scheme not progress.

However, we will reserve our position in the short term to see what Counsellor Paul Barnett and Hastings Borough Council propose as to how they can assist the Club to remain at the Pilot Field within a redeveloped Stadium. This does not change the fact that The Club are in desperate need for not just the one football pitch but more, to accommodate all of their other teams run under their Community programme .

It is still the intention to progress with the current planning applications and relocation to Tilekiln.

Consequently, Hastings United will now explore all options going forward for the stadium relocation site both in Hastings and neighbouring boroughs.

Our preference is of course to stay within the Borough, but the club must not, and will not let anything deter the fruition of their medium- and long-term objectives and plans. Our continued success will make the Town proud!

The main objectives are to climb the non-league pyramid to The Football League, to develop a new stadium and sport community facility, thus producing revenue streams to match our ambition as well as underwriting our Community reach programme.

The Local Authority must decide whether they want to assist the club in its mighty ascent and match the imbued ambition.

We feel that to suppress and impede Hastings United Football Club, is detrimental to improving Hastings itself.