These programme notes written by 2020 Developments Chief Operating Officer Michael Moran first appeared in the Barnsley edition of Our Town, which you can purchase from Hatters World now by clicking the cover image at the foot of this page...
Good afternoon to everyone watching today’s game at home on iFollow. I hope you have all had a great Easter so far and been able to meet up with a few long-lost friends and family members, despite the rapid drop in temperature since this time last week.
We hope the action out on the Kenilworth Road pitch will warm us this afternoon as Nathan, Mick and the team look to take us past the 51-point mark that triggered such memorable celebrations at the end of last season – a night when Barnsley also partied into the night after pulling off a remarkable win at Brentford to secure their Championship status, too.
Like ourselves, the men from south Yorkshire have really kicked on in the condensed and relentless 2020-21 campaign, and have gone beyond the expectations of many by forcing their way into the play-off mix, sitting comfortably inside the top six at kick-off today.
It promises to be an intriguing clash and one in which our considerable contingent of ex-Tykes will be out to put one over on their former employers as we welcome Cauley Woodrow back to Bedfordshire in Barnsley red.
As a departure from the norm, I have been asked to pen these notes today having reached another milestone in our long and winding road to our new stadium.
In providing an update on our planning developments it’s usual to go back a few years and summarise again, all of the various milestones we’ve reached and the hoops we’ve had to jump through. Suffice to say, there are few unexpected obstacles over the years we’ve had to navigate. I think though that most supporters are now as familiar with the story as we are in the development team and, like us, would prefer now to focus on the exciting future ahead.
However, we know there are many anxious questions you have, which I’ll endeavour to answer to the best of my ability.
When will the first match be played at Power Court? Our answer is we believe that will be 2024. Can we guarantee that? Absolutely not. Any number of issues outside our control could come out of the woodwork and cause delays – who would have guessed, when celebrating winning those consents many months ago that we’d be hit by a global pandemic!? Known challenges that can affect timing are another thing but can be managed but there’s always the very unlikely possibility of finding a misplaced gas main or finding an archaeological treasure chest just off St Mary’s Road.
Finance is of course another issue. As you all know we don’t have an enigmatic/shady billionaire sitting behind us to write a cheque for a 23,000 seat stadium. The investment to date from the board has been fantastic and has enabled us to purchase all land at Power Court and Newlands Park freehold (and fund the whole development process to date). However, we still have to maximise the value of our land and conclude deals with occupiers and development partners.
The economic headwinds of Brexit and the Pandemic have certainly not helped but I am pleased to say we have financial appraisals that work (with very little compromise) and an investment model that is being borne out by discussions and negotiations taking place right now which gives us every confidence that we are on track.
It is worth re-stating though how unique our project is. We are seeking to deliver a stadium everyone can be proud of without saddling the club with a crippling debt or without any subsidy or handout from either local or central government. This is something that has never been done before – at least, not that we are aware of.
We are committed to delivering the project in the right way on a sustainable basis such that the new stadium and its surroundings will be such a valuable asset to the club for it to thrive long-term. In a world where numerous other clubs are selling their prize assets for a short-term gain or necessity, we want Power Court to be somewhere you, your family, your children and grandchildren can enjoy for decades to come. Combined with Newlands Park we want to make a positive contribution to the town such that, in years to come, Luton is known for having an iconic stadium in the heart of the town, fully owned by the Club, and one that makes most true football fans green with envy.
So – next steps; It will likely be a close-run thing between us announcing development partners for initial phases at Power Court and Newlands Park (below) and confirmation of revisions to our planning permissions for the two sites. This should be May/June. But please note, we should be on track to build out our initial phase of residential at Power Court and see shovels in the ground before the end of the year under the revisions we have already made to the original consent (this was confirmed in December 2020).
As ever, we need you to support and get behind our new planning applications, just like you did so emphatically with the original applications. However, we are now looking at more nuanced aspects of the sites – the principles of development have already been established. That’s not to take anything for granted and Luton Borough Council of course needs to do their job but we are definitely not expecting anything like the process we had before!
Our wider plans are still critical to making everything work. The stadium cannot happen without residential development around it and commercial space at Newlands Park. Fortunately, whilst some markets have suffered in recent years we have good demand here still and, as part of this, we are looking to actually increase the number of affordable homes at Power Court from before.
The most exciting part of the project is of course the new stadium. In the next few months, we can share more detailed designs based on our evolved thinking of the last few years and your feedback here will be important.
Lastly, I want to repeat that our guiding mantra is always to respect, and be proud of, Luton’s culture and diversity. We will ensure our plans are befitting of this. Ultimately if we don’t do it, nobody else is coming forward with wholesale regeneration of the town centre. Both the town and the club have had to face more than their fair share of challenges over the years. We hope now they can come together for a brighter future which, with your patience, could be as early as 2024.
In the meantime, there is plenty of excitement at what we have seen on the pitch at our current, much-loved home, and we are desperate to see Kenilworth Road packed to the rafters again as soon as possible.
As always, the Club will continue to fight for you to be back in number and ensure it is done in a safe and controlled manner, as we saw with the small crowds allowed in for the Norwich and Preston matches in December. As the majority of the nation becomes vaccinated, I know the Club is planning for capacity attendances from day one of next season as we start the countdown to saying farewell to the old place.
Enjoy today’s game and keep up your fantastic support from home. Without your season ticket purchases and donations, there is no way that we would be in the position we are now with eight games to go. So well done to everyone for playing your part and, on behalf of all at the Club, thank you.