Yeovil Town's plans to build a new Food Store on land at the north end of Huish Park have suffered an unusual set-back, thanks to a twelve year old letter from a former director. George Smith was a Director of Yeovil Town Football Club from 1990 until 2003, and also served as Company Secretary during that time. Mr Smith was also involved in the club's ground move to Huish Park, and in the drawing up of the covenants that lie on the land and describe the restrictions that would affect any party trying to develop the Stadium and its surrounding land.
Whilst some covenants are held by external parties, such as Abbey Manor Group and the Ministry of Defence, one covenant is held by South Somerset District Council (SSDC), and prevents the land being used for residential or commercial development - the latter would clearly prevent the building of a Food Store whilst it is in place.
Mr Smith unfortunately died in January 2003, after a long battle with cancer, and in 2000 he wrote a letter to SSDC explaining that this particular covenant had been deliberately inserted to protect the long term interests of the football club. In this week's Western Gazette, they have published an extract of that letter, and quote the former director as saying twelve years ago:
"The whole purpose of the agreement was to tie up the site and prevent it from being whittled away. At the time I felt it very important that South Somerset District Council could not get emotionally blackmailed into reducing the overall site to relieve the club's financial pressures. If the site was not tied up, part would be sold off and instead of having a 25 acre stadium and car park and sports facilities complex, we would have a stadium, some car parking and very little else."
Given Mr Smith's letter, and the existence of the covenant on the land, Ric Pallister, who is leader of South Somerset District Council, has issued a briefing to his fellow councillors warning them that they need to prove clear demarcation points to prevent a conflict of interest within the Council. He states:
"For members it is necessary to try to split the matter into two specific areas even though the issues do not neatly split that way. We must do that so that there is clear blue water between the council as the planning authority and covenant holder. To muddle the two now that Yeovil Town Football Club have submitted the planning application has the potential to end up with us getting into a legal minefield."
To this ends, it appears that the Council's politically neutral Regulation Committee are to view the application. The Gazette now indicate that the verdict on the Food Store plans is now only likely to be given around October 2012. At present there are still a number of unresolved issues, with SSDC awaiting a submission from the club relating to replacement public open space and recreation facilities.
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