Barnet may have to leave stadium half way through season
Tue 27th Sep 2011 | Football Stadiums & Facilities
Barnet FCs days at Underhill look to be numbered according to chairman Tony Kleanthous.
The club, he says, will be applying to the Football League for permission to hopefully be allowed to play at least half next season at Underhill after the London Borough of Barnet Licensing Department were unable to provide assurances that Barnet will have a licence to operate at the ground for the whole of the 2012-13 season.
Speaking to the club’s official website www.barnetfc.com, Kleanthous has revealed how unresolved ground differences with Barnet Council will mean that the club face the prospect of a reduced footprint next year; incredibly the council also claim the club has no right for vehicular access through Priory Grove, the road behind the East Terrace leading to South Underhill and the club offices and car park.
The refusal of councillors and officials at the town hall over a period of years to deal with the issues at Underhill, the club's home for more than 100 years, have made it very unlikely that the club can continue to operate at the stadium with such limited pedestrian - only access to the South.
Barnet FC has written to the council on many occasions in the last few years to impress upon them the importance that these issues were properly and fairly resolved by, at the latest, the start of this season. These have had no impact on an intransigent regime... contrasting with the seeming haste and speed with which the very same council has fallen over itself to give away borough assets to the nomadic Saracens Rugby Club without following due process.
"It is quite clear that we have reached a stalemate", said Kleanthous.
He said that he personally attended the recent meeting of the LBB Safety Advisory Group, which comprises representatives of the Football Licensing Authority, the council, the police and the emergency services, to seek confirmation of whether a licence would be granted for continued use of the stadium after December 2012.
Kleanthous has repeatedly asked the council's licensing officers if Barnet Council would continue to issue a licence if the footprint of Underhill was reduced next season but this confirmation was not forthcoming.
"These are difficult circumstances - it is a very serious situation", said the chairman. "We have spent some £2 million on ground improvements in the past few years, including a new South Stand, floodlights, turnstiles, car park and so on -- and we certainly had not anticipated being forced to vacate the site at such short notice.
“I'm very irritated because I allowed myself to believe the council's assurances and excuses over the delays in resolving this issue but the contrasting treatment between us and Saracens has opened my eyes to their sheer duplicity"
Kleanthous, who has spent his 17 years as chairman trying to find a site in the borough of Barnet for a new stadium, has previously ruled out staying at Underhill in the medium term due to the site constraints but these latest developments look like scuppering his short term plans to stay there whilst focusing on securing a long term solution.
Kleanthous has accused the council of failing to resolve publicly-made assurances to Barnet FC when Mike Freer (now an MP) was the leader to ensure that the football club had some short term stability at Underhill.
He said that when plans emerged last season for Saracens RFC to relocate to Copthall the council asked Barnet FC not to object to the planning and promised to deal with the outstanding issues and find an alternative site for the football club.
It’s understood that the issues were never resolved and the club has since been told yet again that no site is available to them. The rugby club were then "unbelievably" offered the Copthall site for free while Barnet FC was being asked a "ridiculously high price" for a lease on the small cricket club land, which embraces the car park.
The chairman said: "People on the council side have spoken about their commitment to Barnet FC and have said the council have no site for the club to build a stadium on... yet they have given a free site to a rugby club which has no connection with the borough of Barnet and turned their backs on its own community club which has been in the area for more than 100 years!"
"I have been silent for a long time now quietly working behind the scenes trying to find a solution to our problems in Barnet but it's time that supporters knew what's been going on", said Kleanthous.
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