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Supporters' Trust interviews Gary Sweet - Part two

22 May 2024

Club News

Supporters' Trust interviews Gary Sweet - Part two

22 May 2024

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THE BIG INTERVIEW PART TWO

Well, what a season it’s been. We have so much to be proud of, and as Rob Edwards and Gary Sweet explained at the LTST Presentation Evening, the future is very bright for our club and our town. A big part of that future is of course the new ground at Power Court – and, as we mentioned in the Everton programme, Gary Sweet offered to answer questions about the subject that’s close to every Hatters’ heart for this last programme of the season. So, we sent out a snap questionnaire a week or so ago inviting questions to be asked – and with nearly 300 Trust members and fans responding, we certainly had a lot to talk about!

The largest number of questions asked, unsurprisingly, were about when we might expect to be taking our seats at our new stadium. It’s a major talking point for Town fans, especially as detailed planning submission is imminent, work is going on at the site and just a few days ago full plans for the rerouting of the River Lea were submitted.

“When will the building work start – and what has held it up?”

Gary Sweet: “Firstly may I just say that we completely understand certain frustrations and we are as anxious as anyone to get it done and it’s not an easy question to answer. There are so many complexities with a project like this, in a location like this, and at a time like this including some outside of our control.

“But if we’re looking at concrete facts – no pun intended – groundworks have already started and, in-sync with UKPN’s targeted schedule on the sub-station, piling is currently scheduled to start in the first half of 2025. That’s the foundations being laid. After that you’re looking at approximately a two-year build time. Construction of the stadium can begin before the sub-station move is finished and we won’t need to wait for the residential development to start either. So that gives you some idea – targeting an opening for the 2027/28 season but must allow for test events and training and as it would be a nightmare to move mid-season we may be pushed to 2028/29.

“Yes, it’s taking longer than we wanted it to take which bothers me more than anybody – but no one could have predicted the five years the country, indeed the world, has experienced and the huge impact on all our lives and plans and is still affecting markets.

Some of the issues you’ll have heard about before, and for good reason – because they have affected every major development in the UK. Covid, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, massive interest rate rises, supply chains being hit and material costs rocketing sky high. The cost of everything has more-or-less doubled, so we’ve had to adapt and be agile. And then we have the matter of the UKPN substation being moved.

“UKPN have also been hit by those problems, so they’ve had to reschedule their programme too. That’s totally beyond our control unfortunately and as the sub-station supplies power to the town, we can’t just knock the thing down! It’s all under way now, but the project is ridiculously complex so we’re going to need to be patient. That won’t stop us cracking on with the works we can progress, including site levels and opening up the river and as the development sector begins to recover. But you can have faith. It is happening, it always was. Be 100% sure of that.”

Do you wish you’d picked a less complex site to build on?

GS: “We looked at more than 30 potential sites, and Power Court was the only option for us – despite the obvious complications, which we were fully aware of. Why? Because it’s right at the heart of our town centre, it’s where a football club should be, at the heart of its communities – that’s what our club culture is all about. It’s going to be our home for generations to come and we’re committed to it being the best it can be, in the best location.”

There have been development delays beyond your control – has this period produced any positive benefits? 

GS: “Yes, lots. The extra income from Premier League promotion has enabled us to go bigger, better, bolder. Originally it was to be a built in three phases, starting at 17,500 capacity – but now we’re going straight to our maximum allowable capacity. And because we’ll save time, material, money and upheaval avoiding that, we’ve really been able to enhance the design too, with some of those extra touches which make a real difference. Funding was always in place, though - we sold the land at Newlands at the optimum time and price in the logistics boom and the delays have enabled us to finely-tune the way we work to cut out layers of cost. As you know, we try to do things differently, and that applies to this too: we’re not getting into the position that has damaged so many clubs – and developers – with debts related to new ground builds in the wrong location. Power Court should eventually be debt-free with the income from the residential completion.”

How will Power Court capture the unique nature and atmosphere of Kenilworth Road?

GS: “I love this question. We’re absolutely committed to protecting our heritage – it’s what makes us special now. Literally every little detail is being considered – we captured dozens of characteristics unique to Kenilworth Road that will help shape a uniqueness at Power Court. Proximity of seats to the pitch, the tunnel being offset, even the approach to the stadium – think of the journey between the terraced houses of Hazelbury and replace that with the river and apartment blocks landing you into a lively corner entrance – upgraded but sound familiar?”

Some quickfire questions…

What about the atmosphere?

GS: “This is mainly led by the acoustics which will be far better than we have now – right around the ground. The unique roof structure will retain its acoustic energy as long as fans can supply it. A lot of work is going into promoting this with design and materials.”

Will people be able to sit together as they’ve always done? 

GS: “We’ll be ensuring that supporters will have a certain familiarity to their surroundings, absolutely. We’ll also reflect the various characteristics of different parts of the ground – from the energy of G Block to the more dignified vibe of the David Preece Stand.”

Will PC be used outside of match days? And will it be purely for football?

GS: “PC is all about the football, and we won’t include anything that could compromise the intense atmosphere we want at our core. But we would be foolish not to design in technical capability that will enable us to use the stadium for other things too, be that concerts, boxing or carnival days.”

What else will be on the site?

GS: “At the ground level of the residential there will be retail and food and beverage outlets and we’re also including a multi-use indoor space that can be used as, for instance, a matchday fan zone, for events and exhibitions and so on. And there’s the club museum and shop of course, plus cafes and bars.”

Gary reassured us that all aspects of accessibility and transport are being fully considered and planned for, which answered many more questions. We haven’t got space to include everything so let’s end on this…

What will the ground be called, and will we have a say in that? 

GS: “Again, we are committed to protecting our identity and heritage. Our current thinking is against selling naming rights. As for fans having a say, there will be consultation events and the Supporters’ Trust and Hatters Heritage will be intrinsic to naming of stands. So, if you want to be involved, join the Trust – who sponsor HH – and have a voice in it all.”

Many thanks to Gary for his time and apologies that not everyone’s questions could be asked. Here’s to the future and to Power Court. Keep an eye on our social media and emails – and encourage your family and fellow fans to join the Trust. Especially those youngsters who will soon be filling Power Court!

To join the trust, visit www.lutontownsupporterstrust.com and click on Become A Member.


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