BASINGSTOKE Town Football Club (BTFC)’s future is shrouded in uncertainty after its two main ground options fell apart, according to its chairman Rafi Razzak.
Outgoing chairman Mr Razzak confirmed earlier this season he would be leaving the club and ending his ongoing financial support to the club.
Last month, the club said it intended to try and find a new ground but confirmed it would try and redevelop its Camrose Ground in order to clear debts within the club and also pay for a new home.
Mr Razzak has been critical of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) over what he calls a “lack of tangible help”.
Two options considered by the club included building a smaller capacity ground or redeveloping the Winklebury football site, which is currently occupied by Hampshire Football Association.
However, Mr Razzak believes both of these options are no longer viable meaning the club’s future could be placed into doubt.
Commenting on the first option, Mr Razzak said: “This was effectively Plan A – ‘Lite’, a smaller capacity ground than proposed for Old Oak Common, but requiring millions of pounds for the new build.
“The only way we could deliver this was via approval of a retail development for Camrose, i.e a high value land redevelopment.
“It is clear from our informal discussions with BDBC, that they would probably favour a housing proposal for Camrose. This would constitute a lower value redevelopment scheme and would result in substantially diminished capital available to re-site BTFC.”
As a result of this the club looked at redeveloping the Winklebury site.
According to the club, the redevelopment would have been possible with an appropriate housing scheme but “through discussions with BDBC and Hampshire FA, it is no longer an option”.
Mr Razzak continued: “Hampshire FA has been in discussion with BDBC for some time and has recently submitted detailed plans, very similar to those BTFC were working on, for the redevelopment of the Winkebury site for their own needs. Hampshire FA considered leaving the site, but has decided to stay and increase its use of the facilities at Winklebury.
“They do not want any partners and have developed a business plan that would allow enough pitch time for BTFC.
“I have no issue with Hampshire FA’s proposals as they are simply trying to utilise the site more effectively and become more self-sufficient. However, I believe it would be unlikely that BDBC would favour a new scheme over a similar proposal from the incumbent tenant with a substantial lease on the site. Effectively we have wasted time and money looking at this scheme.”
He added: “We are very disappointed with the lack of tangible help from BDBC, which despite encouraging us to submit proposals over several years, stopped our original plans for a new stadium in the town last year. At numerous meetings since then, they have offered to help, but in reality they have not offered any new sites for us to consider and they seem unlikely to allow a retail development at Camrose - which could help BTFC to build a new stadium within the town.
“We are now left with few options, and anything we do from now will only involve ourselves. It’s very sad indeed”
BDBC's Cabinet Member for Communities and Community Safety Cllr Simon Bound said: “As the Cabinet member responsible for sport, I am of course concerned about the future of the club and its teams, and have had representations from the supporters about the timescale now being imposed. The reality is that finding the right options for the future of the club, such as other funding solutions or community ownership, will take considerable time.
“I have had informal discussions with representatives of the club since it announced its desire to look at its options for a new stadium.
“In these meetings I made clear the importance of gaining local community support for any options that the club wished to take forward. This was not the case when the publically-owned land at Old Common was fully explored by the council before.
“I have frequently reiterated to the club that there is no other public land in the council’s ownership suitable for the relocation of the stadium for the private club at low or no cost. I also stressed the need for formal planning advice on any possible sites.
“Hampshire FA has been a tenant of the Winklebury site since November 2007 with a 75 year lease. As it had a current tenant, this was not an option that the council has ever put forward to the club. But they told us that they were having discussions with the Hampshire FA that have clearly proved unfruitful.
“As owners of some of the land at the Camrose site, we are keen to fully explore the option of improving the facilities there and we have not yet seen, despite frequent requests, any evidence to show why that is not a viable option. We are surprised that there is now such a pressing deadline to leave that site.”
Neil Cassar, Hampshire FA chief executive officer, said: "Hampshire FA can confirm that discussions have been held with Basingstoke Town FC regarding a potential partnership at Winklebury Football Complex. Following these discussions we feel that a partnership at Winklebury Football Complex is not in our best interests or that of our members.
"The reasons for this is that we are currently managing the facility on behalf of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council under a management agreement which has now been in place for some five years. We have also recently submitted an application to Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council for the asset transfer of Winklebury Football Complex which includes a full business plan and a commitment to convert the playing surface from grass to 3G, something we believe is very much needed.
"We will of course continue to work closely with Basingstoke Town FC and support the club in any future discussions with Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council which may help identify a new site to suit their needs and requirements."