The new ground - just what are the NWDA up to?

Posted by DannyD on March 13, 2005, 02:23:13 PM

Liverpool Football Club has spent over five years planning and putting together the Stanley Park project.  They have used what can only be described as a social conscience in their handling of the sensitive local issues surrounding the project. The old Anfield that could have been sold as prime real-estate is to be handed over to the City Council to be used as a park.

The club are encouraging the local community to use the sporting and high tech. facilities that will be available in the new ground via a new sports centre and a community college. Through their brand name they have encouraged the private sector to invest in one of the most run down areas of Liverpool and Britain. It would have been far easier, and a lot cheaper, to up sticks to a site outside of the city, such as Kirkby or Speke, but they have shown remarkable loyalty to the area they regard as their spiritual home.

You would think that the clubs insistence that they want to stay and be a leading force in a regenerated Anfield would arouse applause and gratitude from all sides? Not a bit of it, instead they are locked into a bitter fight with a government quango.

This quango is called The North West Development Association (NWDA) who seem intent on bullying and blackmailing the club into scrapping all the hard work and finances put in to the Stanley Park project to go partners with a company, Everton (and lest we forget, all football clubs are private companies), who have a less than a satisfactory track record in ground building or sharing. A company that struggles to raise any serious interest from a creditable investor instead chasing what increasingly appears to be a mythical overseas sports fund. This reluctance on the part of investors may have its roots in Everton’s record with the "prestigious" Kings Dock project. However it would appear the NWDA have no such qualms regarding Everton.

The NWDA was part of the band of quangos that gave Everton The Kings Dock, and was described by them as "the most prestigious piece of real estate in the North West of England".  It rejected the many self funding schemes that had the backing of some of the best multinational blue-chip companies and handed this wonderful site over to an ailing company who had the backing of a cobbled together bunch of lower league entrepreneurs.

Everton had failed to register a profit in years. Its debts were running away at an alarming yearly rate. The British financial institutions wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole yet the lion's share of the Kings Dock was handed over to them to develop as a multi million pound stadium. They would also be entitled to a share of the surrounding development.

The cost of the build should not have worried even a down at heel company such as Everton. The public sector, Liverpool City Council and NWDA being in the forefront were about to foot almost all of the cost. A whopping £70m of public money, £35m of it from European Objective One money that should have been distributed throughout the region, was earmarked for a project that was way above what the city needed.

Who on earth would fill a fifty-five thousand seated stadium for concerts or exhibitions? Everton themselves struggled to fill the 40 thousand capacity Goodison Park, but the idea that there would be massive concerts were nothing more than ill conceived pie in the sky. A much more compact arena for concerts etc would have been far more realistic and far less of a strain on the public purse.
It was a gift Everton could not refuse; they must have felt they had at last won the European Cup. All they had to do was come up with their agreed share, a poultry £30m. When you consider the real cost of the build this was a derisory sum.

As we know Everton could not stump up the £30m for the project  and after more than two years of the Everton board waltzing everyone around the houses the scheme collapsed. The other bidders walked away from the site wanting nothing more to do with it. The cost of this failure to the ratepayers of Liverpool and the taxpayers of England and Wales has never been made public but must run into millions.

The site to this day remains as it was before, a car park Something that stands out in the past and the present projects is that at no time what so ever did the NWDA or the City Council or any of the other members of the Kings Dock fiasco ever approach Liverpool Football Club to broker a shared Kings Dock Stadium. It was to be Everton’s flag ship, a sole use stadium, and even when it appeared the finacnes were going belly up Liverpool FC were not consulted to see if we could bring finance to the table.

After all the pain and agony of the Kings Dock not to mention the enormous cost, you would think the NWDA would give Everton Football Club a wide berth in any future projects concerning funding for a new football stadium.

Unsurprisingly this is not the case. They are moving heaven and earth and all the stars and planets to ensure Everton share a ground with Liverpool. No, not on the site that Liverpool have been given planning permission and have put in five years of hard work and a great deal of money as you might logicaly think. Not a project that helps the local community as much as it does Liverpool Football Club. No the NWDA are going with a site that Everton see as a better prospect for themselves, somewhere on the North Docks, with both clubs abandoning the L4 region forever.

The deal Everton are after on this new site is as an equal partner, though how they are to pay for their share is a mystery considering they couldn’t raise £30m for the Kings Dock when their debts were at a fairly manageable level a couple of years back. Perhaps the NWDA are going to bail them out again with more of the public money they say they guard so well.

There will probably be a holding company set up to administer the running and financing of the proposed North Dock stadium. What happens if one of the parties has problems raising the amount agreed upon to first build and then to cover the running cost of a ground share? I do not have a degree in applied business studies, but it is obvious even to a lay person the other party would have to ensure all monies were paid on time. Dual responsibility I think it is called. This represents a very risky proposition to Liverpool FC.

Putting aside the footballing rivalry we have to ask ourselves as citizens of Merseyside why is it so important for this ground share to go ahead? Why are the NWDA so intent to see this happen? How will it benefit the people of the area? In fact we can ask who will benefit at all? Liverpool football Club will not benefit that is for sure. A spurious case has been made that a ground share would free up money for Liverpool to strengthen the team. It would be a sorry day if the board of Liverpool FC put to one side the teams rebuilding for anything, including a new ground - and indeed they haven't done this yet and plans for the new stadium generate extra income for transfers, not less.

The most serious problem for Liverpool FC remains their would be partners. Would you go into a mortgage with someone who owes more money than they bring in, have spiralling debts and have a track record of pulling out of agreements without notice? Everton have the season tickets to Goodison Park tied up with an American company Bear & Stern for the next 20 years. How would they deal with this agreement? Everton do not have the funds to close on it. It was set up to pay off debts to the banks.

What would happen to Liverpool’s team building when the money needed to buy quality players would have to be used to bail out their competitor who had now become their partner and alarmingly a liability?

Liverpool FC would be far better served with the single owned stadium which benefits teh local community they are working hard to make a reality. Once the payments are made to the investors, Liverpool FC would own the New Anfield lock stock and barstool. Not only is it necessary to keep the history and heritage of the club, but financially it is a sound investment.

All the sponsorship and revenue generated would come into Liverpool’s coffers. Some good housekeeping and prudent investments will be needed but Liverpool have a decent track record on the financial side of the footballing business and the projected increase in income easily outstrips the required repayments. Everton told the world that any cash needed for the Kings Dock would be “ ring fenced “ and would not affect the rest of the clubs revenue. That was accepted as good practice by the quangos (NWDA) back then but for Liverpool's project it is dismissed out of hand. Liverpool FC are not desperate for a partner, and they certainly do not need a partner that could easily become a millstone around their neck.

How will the non-footballing citizens of Liverpool benefit from a shared stadium? The NWDA are keeping that close to their chest. They claim there is strong support for it yet reality dictates it is an option detested by the overwhelming moajority of fans in the city. Nobody can tell you how a large injection of public funds will impact on all our lives. Is the new shared ground at the Docks to be open to the public? Is there to be a public park? Is it planned to have concerts and exhibitions on site just like the Kings Dock? If so what of the recently proposed new smaller arena project on the Kings Dock, is that to be scrapped in favour of a North Dock shared scheme? Have they had meetings with private developers already?

Everton are the only group in any proposed partnership that will come out smelling of roses. As in the Kings Dock project they look to have a guardian angel looking over them. Or are members of the NWDA closer to members of Everton that we think?

Everton debts continue to rise at an alarming rate. Expected to top £50m this year. They have been the brunt of some hilarity in the city over a proposed financial package with a group called Fortress Sports Funding. The names of some of the members of this fund would not be out of place in a lonely hearts club website, but not to worry  this group has apparently disappeared into thin air and the funding with it. So how will Everton fund their share of a new ground?  Even their lofty position in the Premier League will do little to ease the demands of the bank and their creditors. So the bets are on the NWDA coming to their rescue for a second time

We are continually told that football is now a business and that clubs have to adopt a business philosophy. Yet when it comes to the NWDA and their obsession with bullying Liverpool Football Club into sharing a ground with Everton all the tenets of good business practice are thrown out of the window.

The Everton director and main shareholder Mr Paul Gregg has a clearer idea on good business practices it would appear. He was also very forthright last week when he complained that if Liverpool FC are allowed to build the New Anfield in Stanley Park, Everton will in five weeks become second class citizens of the city. This outburst says a lot on Everton’s desperation to either get a ground share paid by public funds or stop Liverpool building a new stadium.

Don’t get me wrong with all the smoke and mirrors used by the Everton Board and the NWDA it is refreshing to see Mr Gregg openly come out and fight his corner. He is using the business philosophy many are telling Liverpool FC to use. He is prepared to fight tooth and nail to see that his main competitor does not streak ahead and he is protecting his share of the market and Everton FC. Looking for his exit strategy from the club with a nice divident to boot.

No problem with that, but if Liverpool FC use the same rules as Mr Gregg wouldn’t it make good business sense to let Everton flounder, even give them a little nudge, sending them to the wall they have been hurdling towards for at least 10 years? This would remove Liverpools main local rivals leaving the club a monopoly in the Merseyside area for those wanting to watch top flight football. Liverpool would become the Newcastle of the North West (but with the trophies), a major footballing city with just one top club. I'm prepared to bet that within 5 years in our football mad city all the young Evertonian’s would be wearing the Liverpool Red and the club's merchandising would rocket. Who knows, the New Anfield may even be too small to accommodate the demand for Premier League football and a bigger ground/ground expansion would have to be contemplated.

Liverpool Football Club board do not want this of course, though the fans might be delighted, as a club they have a respectable image which they cherish. All Liverpool Football Club want is to start the building of the stadium and the much needed regenration of the local area. Arsenal started out on their project about the same time as Liverpool. Arsenal will be playing their first game there sometime next season. Ric Parry, Liverpool’s Chief Exec. has stated he cannot even give a start date to the build while the uncertainty of the situation prevails.

Investors must also be a little nervous. They want to see a return on their investment as soon as possible. To have money set aside for a project that is lagging behind costs them money and becomes less attractive. Liverpool have had to change the estimated cost of the build. With the time wasted on the NWDA’s procrastination and a nuisance campaign led by a local Evertonian ex-councillor, the cost of steel has shot up to an all time high adding a further £10 - £15 million to the cost.  Add to this the delay to the date the club should be receiving a return on the stadium through the turnstiles, sponsorship etc and we are dealing with a very serious breach of a government agency’s responsibilities.

Isn’t it about time the NWDA came out and told the people of Liverpool what their agenda is? Is their remit to administer funds for projects that make a difference to the lives of the regions citizens or have they set themselves up as an agency to prop up ailing football clubs with massive injections of public funds?

© Danny D, Kirkby 2005

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