Concerns have been raised over the proposed sale of Peterborough United’s London Road stadium to the club’s three co-owners.
Posh are in talks to finalise the purchase of the ABAX Stadium and surrounding grounds from Peterborough City Council with the two sides hoping to have the deal completed by the end of April.
The club announced last Friday in a blog by co-owner Dr Jason Neale that it wants to either re-develop the ground or build a new stadium in Peterborough.
Dr Neale stated that himself and fellow co-owners Darragh MacAnthony and Stewart ‘Randy’ Thompson want to own the ground separately from the club as it would allow them to “access to a broader range of financing options” to develop facilities and “effectively protect the club from any financial liabilities that can arise from major development activities”.
The owners have also agreed to answer further questions over the potential stadium move over the coming weeks.
However, in a lengthy statement the Posh Supporters Trust said it feared that having the stadium owned separately from the club could leave it at risk under new owners in the future.
Mr MacAnthony has previously complained that Posh are impeded in their development plans for the ground by not owning it, and have to pay rent of £500,000 a year on top of being responsible for repairs and improvements.
It is a situation the trust fears may repeat itself again.
It said in a statement: “If the ground was being bought by PUFC Ltd, which is the legal entity that owns the club, then it is more certain that the club and its ground will stay together in the longer term, and that the club itself would be the main beneficiary of any development of the stadium.
“If the club is bought by the separate company owned by the three club directors themselves then there is more chance, not necessarily now but in the longer term, that any stadium development benefits could slip away from the club and a forced move away from London Road could happen in the future, possibly when the club has changed hands.
“There could also be significant rent to pay as there is now to the current owner, Peterborough City Council.”
The trust’s fears relate to the ground’s recent history which saw Peterborough United Holdings Ltd (PUHL) acquire the freehold in 2003 - making it the stadium’s landlords - and a successful planning application to build flats at the Moy’s End stand in 2006, although the development never took place.
The council bought the stadium and surrounding land for £8 million from PUHL in 2010, a deal which was widely welcomed as it secured Posh’s future.
The trust has a right to bid for the stadium as it is registered as an Asset of Community Value. However, it has confirmed it will not take up that option.
Instead it is calling on the council to put “safeguards” in place to make sure that Posh continue to play in a city centre location.
This includes keeping in place the covenant over the London Road ground which means it has to be used for sporting purposes, retaining a right to buy back the stadium under certain circumstances and seeking assurances from any new owners of the stadium that the football club will be the main beneficiary of the stadium developments.
Dr Neale confirmed on the blog that the covenant would remain in place should a new stadium be built.
A spokesman for the council said: “We are in discussions with the trust to make sure the stadium is protected as a football ground in the future.”
The trust has previously angered Mr MacAnthony after it publicly questioned Posh’s bid to buy back the stadium.
However, in a lengthy statement the trust makes clear that it has been a “big supporter” of Mr MacAnthony and that “no chairman in the Football League has a better record of facilitating the buying and developing of young talented players, many of who have gone on to grace the Premier League or Championship for many seasons and continue to do so.”
Instead, it says its actions are “only to look out for the long-term interests of the club” and that it has met with the owners who “outlined their vision to create a much bigger stadium suitable for sustained Championship football, either at London Road or if this cannot be achieved, potentially a purpose built stadium in the close proximity”.
The trust’s statement also calls for more details of what the Posh co-owners are planning to do with the stadium to be disclosed. It notes that: “The owners are business people looking to promote their investments as well as enjoying owning a football club.”
Dr Neale had written in his blog on the club’s website that the ABAX Stadium is “showing her age” and there are “restraints” to developing it.
But he insisted any new ground would be built within the city of Peterborough.
Whether Posh stay at the ABAX or build a new ground, he stated: “The result must be a stadium of which the entire Posh community can be proud and that supports our aspirations to return to Championship flight football and thrive once we get there.”