How the right to bid has empowered supporter trusts

Ever since the Localism Act came into force in 2011, communities across England have been able to use the legislation to protect assets valuable for the community. For...

Ever since the Localism Act came into force in 2011, communities across England have been able to use the legislation to protect assets valuable for the community. For supporters’ trusts, the new community Right to Bid enacted in September 2012 has provided an opportunity to safeguard their training grounds, stadiums and clubs.

Under Right to Bid, a building or land may be considered an asset of community value (ACV) if its main use has recently been or is presently used to further the social well-being or social interests of the local community and could realistically do so in the future. Social interests include cultural, recreational and sporting interests.

Not-for-profit local community groups or charities that have a connection with the asset can request a designation. Among these, football supporters’ trusts have been the most active in getting ACV designations for their clubs.

“We have helped 34 groups list their stadium with their local authority under the Right to Bid as an asset of community value,” says Jacqui Forster, head of casework and constitutional affairs at Supporters Direct. Grounds listed as an ACV vary from large to small, from Liverpool’s Anfield and Manchester United’s Old Trafford to Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill and Nuneaton Town’s JDRF James Parnell Stadium (better known as Liberty Way).

Following the request for a designation, a local authority has eight weeks to decide, and has to inform the applicant, the owner and the tenant.

Designated ACVs must be listed by the local authority. Community groups can appeal a refusal and an explanation must be given. The listing lasts for five years, after which the asset needs to be re-nominated.

As a result of the designation, the owner of the asset must inform the local authority and community group if he wishes to sell. The community group then has six weeks to submit an expression of interest in buying the asset. After it submits an expression of interest it has another four and a half months to raise support and finance in order to make a bid.

While the owner does not have to sell to the community group, even if its bid is higher, they are restricted by having to inform the group and wait up to six months overall if the community group wishes to bid.

This means a club cannot be sold without its fans’ knowledge. The club also has greater security over its ground. But while the Localism Act and Right to Bid have helped empower many supporter trusts, challenges do remain.

“Each application has been totally different,” says Ms Forster. “Some councils want a letter of application but all of the councils require the information in either the form or letter that is required by the Act.”

Some councils do not include information about ACV legislation, guidance or forms on their website. Sometimes groups choose to contact a locally elected councillor or MP to make their case.

On the other hand, there is a possibility for the Act to be extended to other regions. “We are working with a Cardiff-based SD Board and SD England and Wales Council member who is trying to persuade the Welsh Assembly to adopt the Act,” says Ms Forster. “There is a provision in the Act for it to be applicable to Wales. However it is not currently applicable to any other part of the UK.”

Case studies:


Derby County's Pride Park
Derby County’s Pride Park

RamsTrust was formed in 2002 as an independent co-operative to provide a voice for Derby County supporters and to help strengthen the club’s ties with the local community. The trust works with its members, as well as Derby County executives and board, to build the club into a world class sporting institution.

It currently has 790 members, including some celebrities: Robert Lindsay, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Simon Groom, author Wendy Holden, celebrity chef Silvana Franco, Dame Margaret Beckett MP, former MP Chris Williamson and Lord Pendry.

In 2014 Derby County’s stadium, Pride Park, was made an asset of community value, which gives supporters the opportunity to buy the asset if the owners were to sell it. Later in the year, the football academy and training ground of the club was also declared an ACV. In the event of a sale of the property, Rams Trust would be able to bid for it.

This was the first time a training ground in the country had been granted the status. The trust, a member of Supporters Direct, had also submitted an application to Erewash Borough Council for its football academy and training ground to be declared an asset of community value. Both applications, submitted in October 2014, were successful and the site was listed in accordance with the 2011 Localism Act.

“As there were already a number of ACVs obtained for Football Clubs’ Stadiums when our applications were submitted, we were hopeful of obtaining that approval,” said Tony Beck of RamsTrust. “However, it was realised that the training ground too forms an important part of the stadium’s ability to create what is needed to maintain Derby County’s status among the top level.

“It was most useful that a public enquiry had been held in 2001 at the planning stage of the ground’s initial development which provided answers on this question. Last year, the club also wanted to extend the training ground.”


Peterborough United

Peterborough United's London Road Stadium
Peterborough United’s London Road Stadium

The Posh Supporters’ Trust was set up in 2003 by supporters of Peterborough United, who were worried about the future of their football club.

The club had been on the market for over 12 months and fans were concerned about the threat of administration or demise by asset stripping.

The trust was officially formed as a co-operative under the Industrial and Provident Society Act in 2003. On 13 January 2014 the Posh Supporters’ Trust applied to Peterborough City Council for the London Road Stadium to be listed as an asset of community value, which was accepted in July.

Should the stadium, currently owned by Peterborough City Council, be up for sale in the following five years, the trust would have to be notified and has the right to bid for it. London Road Stadium is currently owned by the council, which paid £8.65m for it from the previous owner – businessman Colin Hill – in 2010.

The local authority agreed a new lease in 2012 under which the Posh will pay an unspecified monthly sum over an unspecified number of years, which will end in the club being given ownership of the London Road ground.

“The council had to pay around £9m to get the ground back, but they have part-funded some important ground development since and there is supposed to be more,” explains Peter Lloyd, former chair of Posh and current board member of Supporters Direct. “If they had managed to get much of their purchase price back from the rental income then I think it would be more willing to sell.”

PST now has more than 250 members. “A holding company structure was created to facilitate the purchase of the ground by a property developer,” adds Mr Lloyd.

“The council had a pre-emption right, as previous owner, which could have prevented this. But it did not exercise it and the deal was waved through. The PST exposed this and caused a great deal of embarrassment, and effectively the council was eventually forced to buy the ground back from him.

“The trust would not have been in a position to bid for the club and the stadium (if part of the club) on its own in 2003.

“However, if there had been an ACV in place in 2003, the sale of the stadium to a property developer could not have taken place in the way it did.”

Mr Lloyd said this was because an ACV on the stadium gave the trust “a wonderful thing” – the right to know if there were any plans to sell.

“It is a compulsion on the owner/vendor to inform the council, which must inform the trust,” he added. “That is embedded in the legislation.

“If the club and stadium were owned together and were being sold together, the trust may have been able to work with a purchaser who shared the trust community ethos and bid with them. If that were to happen now, I think there would be a much greater chance of the trust being involved with a new buyer.

“But if the current owner of the club just wanted to buy the stadium then I’m sure the trust would be in favour, especially as the protections on the sale of the stadium would stay in place.”

Mr Lloyd says Supporters Direct has played a very important role in helping the trust. “The support from Supporters Direct has been a lot, especially in the early years when we needed more help. SD also helped with advice surrounding the ground issue and has been the conduit for help with setting up the ACV.”

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust

Blackpool FC’s stadium, Bloomfield Road, became the city’s first building to be secured as an ACV.

In February 2014 Blackpool Council approved an application by the Seasiders Independent Supporters’ Association (SISA), and in December made the stadium an ACV.

The move was described by the club’s chair, Karl Oyston, as “absolutely meaningless” because the club is not up for sale. But SISA argued the listing provided an element of protection for the football ground.

In June 2014 SISA became a supporters trust and changed its name to Blackpool Supporters’ Trust. Fans formed the trust to with the ultimate aim to own a majority of Blackpool Football Club.


Oxford United's Kassam Stadium
Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium

OxVox, which stands for Oxford United Supporters’ Trust, was set up in 2002 by fans of Oxford United as a means to empower themselves.

The trust, a co-operative made up of fan members, works to represent fans’ interests and has regular meetings with representatives of the club.

In May 2013, the application of OxVox to list Kassam Stadium (right) as an ACV was approved by the city council. In the event of a sale, the trust will have six months to put together a bid.

Oxford United have been playing at the stadium since 2001. Former owner Firoz Kassam sold the club in 2006 but kept the ground – at the time OxVox’s application was the first successful one involving a football ground.

Since then, most trusts have used the Oxford application letter as an example when applying for ACV designation, explains Supporters Direct’s Jacqui Forster.

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