Luton Town and 2020 Developments chief executive Gary Sweet described Luton Council’s granting of approval for the mixed-use development at Newlands Park as a seismic moment in the football club’s history.
Interviewed by BBC Look East at the Town Hall in the minutes immediately after the overwhelming majority verdict was returned by the development control committee, Sweet couldn’t hide his delight at another historic night following the January approval of a new stadium at Power Court – but also urged caution among supporters for a few weeks yet.
He said: “It is probably the biggest moment in the history of Luton Town Football Club. My job is to keep my feet on the ground now and wait for the secretary of state to give his approval and ensure there is no challenge thereafter.
“We’ve still got three or four months to go, and then I’ll probably open my bottle of champagne. But I’ll insist that everyone else does so now.”
Gary said that it would be “normal” procedure for there to be a further delay.
“The secretary of state may well have a look at it to see if there is any kind of regional impact and to see if he agrees with the decision of the council,” he said. “For us, it’s a local decision, so there should be no call-in.
“And then it is up to anybody if they want to challenge it through the judicial review process, which is them challenging the decision of the council. So we’ll probably need about four months before we absolutely know that none of those things will happen.”
Asked if he could believe that the moment had finally arrived that both applications for Power Court and Newlands Park had been approved, two and a half years after their submission, he added: “I can believe it because I always had faith and confidence that we’d get to this point.
“That’s not an arrogant statement, but it’s interesting that when we deal in a commercial world, we are football people, we don’t lose.
“We’ve got a sports mentality that we take to the commercial market and so, in this case, we studied the opposition in the way that Mick Harford will be with Bradford tomorrow night and Gillingham on Saturday.
“We knew what the arguments were going to be, and we covered all of that with the retail conditions and all of the additional effort that we put into the design.
“I think we won it two and a half years ago when we submitted the applications. It’s been the same argument that we had back then. It’s been the same designs that we had back then. We’ve used the same people all the way through.
“We haven’t changed any of those consultants. It’s a team, just like Mick’s taking the team to Bradford, this is a team. Our team is solid, it’s sound and we know what we’re talking about. It was thoroughly thought through. The designs are fantastic and we are providing Luton with exactly what Luton needs, and that’s why we won the case.”
Is he worried about a judicial review being called for by an objectors?
“No, I don’t really worry about something I can’t control. If it comes our way, then we’ll deal with it. It’s likely to go the council’s way in that case, but we’ll support the council in that. We’ve been doing this now for around four years, so we kind of know what we are talking about and I think ultimately tonight, what it means is that it will happen, and the only thing that can occur from somebody else’s intervention is that there will be a delay.”
On a potential date for moving into a new stadium, he added: “One thing I thank everybody for is their patience, but I’m also going to ask for more because actually we can’t really give a date. I don’t necessarily want to do what Tottenham have done this year and announce a moving in date and then delay it.
“So when you get a date from us, it will be a realistic one, but enjoy Kenilworth Road for the next three or four years, is all I’m going to say. I did say to somebody the other day: ‘Are we moving in two years’ time?’ he asked me. I said ‘Well no, you want more time at Kenilworth Road than that to enjoy it, don’t you?’ And he said ‘Well yeah, I do really”.
“So enjoy Kenilworth Road for a bit yet and then hopefully it’ll be just around the corner from there.”