Hartlepool United chiefs refuse talks with council as Victoria Park row rumbles on

Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United Football Club.
Victoria Park, the home of Hartlepool United Football Club.

HARTLEPOOL United say they see no point to continue negotiations on the sale of the ground unless the council lifts a rent review threat.

Pools chairman Ken Hodcoft sparked the row on Saturday when he used his programme notes to accuse Hartlepool Borough Council of failing to support the club and issued a thinly-veiled threat that owners IOR “will not stand much more”.

Council wants ‘club to fail’ claims furious Hartlepool United boss

The council immediately hit back, with Councillor Robbie Payne - chairman of the Regeneration Services Committee - describing Mr Hodcroft’s comments as “totally unwarranted and completely without foundation”.

The club and council have been at loggerheads for a number of years over the future of Victoria Park, and despite various meetings and negotiations they have been unable to reach an agreement on a sale.

The issue of rent has also been thrown into the mix, with the council poised to review the amount they take from the club each year after freezing it for a number of years.

But the row has rumbled on with fresh comments from the Pools boardroom saying the council have rejected “reasonable offers” to buy Victoria Park and suggesting the reason the club is being asked for more money is because “some inefficient HBC departments cause a drain on funds”.

A club statement said: “As the chairman said in his programme notes, HBC show no concrete support for the club.

“If they did, why would they want to put the rent up for a loss-making business that benefits the town to the tune of £5m per year flowing in to the community?

The owners therefore see no point in any meeting/negotiations, particularly under the threat of a rent increase going back 12 years.

“But if that threat is removed and HBC requirements are realistic and appropriate to wanting to support the Football Club – and not maximise income to HBC – and a detailed draft purchase agreement is presented for review which also considers the HBC promise of the land to the north of the ground, then HUFC are willing to meet and negotiate.”

Hartlepool Borough Council responded to the latest outburst by describing the club’s comments as “laughable”.

Coun Payne said: “It’s a shame that Ken Hodcroft seems to believe that yet another unjustified and ill-informed attack on the council is the best way forward in agreeing the sale of Victoria Park.

“The council has always understood the importance of Hartlepool United FC to the town and wants it to be successful - to suggest otherwise is laughable.

“The council has owned Victoria Park for over 50 years - not to make a profit but to ensure that the town retains a professional football club - and we have always tried to act in the best interest of the fans and townspeople in general.

“I’m sure that many supporters will recall the council providing financial support to Hartlepool United FC in the past to ensure it remained in business.

“Far from us placing stumbling blocks in the way of a potential sale of Victoria Park, I can honestly say that the only stumbling blocks are IOR’s complete and utter failure to table a realistic offer and enter into meaningful negotiations.”

Hartlepool United’s statement in full

“HBC are incorrect in their response and have shown that through what we see as broken promises to Hartlepool United in the past and rejections of past offers based on reasons unrelated to HUFC.

“In addition, when HUFC has made offers which they are told “could be acceptable to the council” they are rejected by HBC committees.

“The club is unaware of any agreement to freeze rents (for any reason) but has reminded the council many times that HUFC runs at a loss and cannot sustain rent increases.

“As the chairman said in his programme notes, HBC show no concrete support for the club. “If they did, why would they want to put the rent up for a loss-making business that benefits the town to the tune of £5m per year flowing in to the community?

“The goose and the golden egg come to mind, or maybe the council policy is to obtain money from any source regardless – perhaps while some HBC departments cause a drain on funds.

“The ground was obtained by default to HBC; they have held it in “trust” for the benefit of the town and they should not be looking to make enormous profits nor attach some unrealistic strings to any sale.

“They make good money from the current rent and give nothing in return.

“They show a total disrespect to what IOR have done for the town and community, and the funds invested in the club since 1997 all to the benefit of the town of Hartlepool and its public.

“HUFC was asked by HBC to let the rugby club play at HUFC, and HUFC agreed but got nothing in return.

“HBC kept the rent the same – and continue to reject realistic offers for the lease and want to dictate terms of sale that are not acceptable to any business organisation.

“In short, that is the sale of the lease with hand-cuffs on the buyer with a requirement that HBC get a share of any future profits made and first refusal at the current lease price if the ground is every sold on.

“Such terms are not in the interests of IOR, nor the club (or any future owner). HBC mentions in its statement a restriction in any sale about football use – HUFC have always agreed to that clause and do not understand why HBC makes a point of it in its reply to the programme notes.

“Perhaps they should have identified in their statement of reply what the council really want and the sums of money they want – so that the public know – which would in effect reflect a huge profit to the council over their £10,000 default price.

“Should HBC implement a unilateral rent increase then they will be fully responsible for any future direction the owners are forced in to. The door may be open, as their statement says, to HBC negotiations but there is never anything once HUFC step inside that door, except for stumbling blocks, the requirement to maximise money from HUFC and lack of full council support.

“HUFC have asked many times to see a draft Sales and Purchase agreement from HBC but one never materialises. The owners therefore see no point in any meeting/negotiations, particularly under the threat of a rent increase going back 12 years.

“But if that threat is removed and HBC requirements are realistic and appropriate to wanting to support the Football Club – and not maximise income to HBC – and a detailed draft purchase agreement is presented for review which also considers the HBC promise of the land to the north of the ground, then HUFC are willing to meet and negotiate.”