MAYOR Stuart Drummond is in favour of transferring Victoria Park to Hartlepool United for free as part of wider regeneration plans.
He was speaking after yesterday’s cabinet committee, which met to discuss the Mill House masterplan which aims to transform the area with a residential, business and leisure development.
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The future of Victoria Park, which the club currently leases from Hartlepool Borough Council for around £18,000 a year, is a major part of the scheme.
The ground is valued at around £625,000 but it could exchange hands without payment.
Cabinet members did not make any recommendations about the sale or transfer of the ground itself, that decision lies with full council.
Instead, they approved the development of the masterplan and approved Gus Robinson Developments as the preferred bidder.
Both Mayor Drummond, a season ticket holder, and independent councillor Cath Hill, who has a small number of shares, declared a personal non-prejudicial interest.
Speaking afterwards, Mayor Drummond said: “My preferred option is to transfer the ground but I will not be making any recommendations to full council.
“I think in the past it has been looked at simply as a land transaction but the club and council have been too far apart for anything to happen.
“Over the years I have changed my mind as to whether we should but the detail has now changed.
“The development of this whole area is key.”
Mayor Drummond wants a decision soon and would prefer full council to meet before the all-out elections in May.
But it could be after and Mayor Drummond will be consulting with political groups.
Speaking during the meeting, Mayor Drummond said: “The plan for the whole site has the potential to be one of the most exciting in the town for a while.”
Officers are still working on the masterplan but a number of organisations could be involved including Camerons Brewery, which owns the Mill House pub, Cleveland College of Art and Design, which is hoping to secure student accommodation, and Hartlepool College of Further Education.
Mayor Drummond said he recognised concerns about the ownership of football grounds in general, due to fears the land could be sold and the club moved elsewhere.
He said Darlington Football Club, which is in administration, was a prime example of what can go wrong.
But he said an economic impact study - which showed Pools was worth £5m a year to the town - showed the club’s value.
He added: “The question I would ask if we don’t do it, what the impact is.
“It is quite stark and if what happened to Darlington happened here it would be a disaster.”
Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “Do we transfer the ground at nil cost with a loss in capital receipts and can we balance that with the obvious benefits to the town that the club contributes?
“That is a decision for full council.”
Graham Frankland, assistant director (resources), said: “The club have come to us and said they believe the ground should be transferred at no cost.
“That would allow them to join in the masterplan and secure the support of the owners going forward.”
Mr Frankland said the council would be looking at restrictive covenants if it was transferred.
Russ Green, Hartlepool United’s chief executive, has previously welcomed the chance to secure ownership of the ground for free as part of the wider regeneration plan.