Mayor impartial over club future

Victoria Park
Victoria Park

MAYOR Stuart Drummond insists his links with Hartlepool United will not have any bearing on negotiations over the future of Victoria Park.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s cabinet committee will meet on Monday to discuss major plans for a scheme aimed at regenerating the Mill House area of town with a residential, business and leisure development.

But Mayor Drummond, who famously worked for the club as the H’Angus the Monkey mascot prior to being elected for the first time back in 2002, has dismissed suggestions he should take a back seat in any negotiations.

The future of Victoria Park, which the club currently leases from the council for around £18,000 a year, is a major part of the Mill House regeneration scheme.

The ground is valued at around £625,000 but it could exchange hands without payment as part of the wider masterplan.

Labour group leader, Councillor Ged Hall, has questioned whether the three-strong cabinet of Mayor Drummond and independent councillors Hilary Thompson and Cath Hill are best placed to make recommendations about the ground sale.

Mayor Drummond is a Pools season ticket holder, while Coun Hill, a former season ticket holder, owns a small amount of shares in the club.

Coun Hall, a season ticket holder and former cabinet member, has called on Mayor Drummond to declare a prejudicial interest.

But Mayor Drummond said the cabinet will not be making any recommendations about the sale or transfer of the ground itself.

Instead, cabinet members are asked to approve the development of the Mill House masterplan and approve Gus Robinson Developments as the preferred bidder for the development.

The final decision about the ground itself will be taken by full council.

Mayor Drummond, who will declare a personal interest on Monday, said: “The decision we are making is to approve the masterplan and appoint the preferred developer.

“The decision to transfer the land would normally be an executive decision but because I am a season ticket holder that will go to full council.

“This has been going on for a number of years and we are at a point where we want to make a final decision on it.

“Hopefully we can start working a lot more closely together for the benefit of everyone.”

Coun Hall added: “In the interests of taxpayers it shouldn’t be gifted to the club.

“They should pay something, if only as compensation for the rent when the ground is transferred over.”

Coun Hill, a former season ticket holder, holds a small number of shares but intends to take part in the discussions on Monday after declaring a personal interest.

Coun Hill said the amount of shares she owns are not enough to make it a prejudicial interest.

A decision on the ground was expected to be put to full council on Thursday, April 12.

But Mayor Drummond said an extraordinary meeting of the full council could instead be arranged for the week after the all-out elections.

Conservative group leader Ray Wells has questioned taking the issue to full council during the pre-election period, known as purdah.

Purdah is a period between the announcement of an election and the date on which an election is held, during which no politically sensitive announcements should be made.

Coun Wells said: “While I support the idea of the club entering into negotiations with the council it is my belief that this could quite literally turn into a political football.

“It is too serious a subject to be rushed through this political year.”

The cabinet committee meets on Monday, March 19, at the civic centre, at 9.15am.