Date: 6th September 2011 at 2:51pm
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Tony Kleanthous’ silence over Saracens’ relocation plans for Copthall Stadium has been broken, and in spectacular fashion with no punches pulled!

Barnet’s chairman, as he told the official website, feels that Barnet Council wants to force the football club out in favour of Rugby…

The statement, as issued on Monday, in full is as follows: ‘Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous has broken his silence about the much publicised multi-million pound Saracens relocation plans for Copthall Stadium in a statement issued by the club today. He accuses Barnet Council of contravening the Local Government Act which states that the council MUST obtain best value for any site it disposes of in the borough.

The statement also accuses the council of using delaying tactics, failing to resolve assurances made to Barnet FC in recent years and making it impossible for Barnet FC to operate at Underhill. The council have told the club they do not have any land for it to develop a stadium … even though they were secretly agreeing to go ahead with plans for Saracens to relocate.

“It is quite clear they want to push football out and move rugby in”, says the hard-hitting statement. “Despite Barnet FC having more than 120 years of history as a community club in the area, they seem to want to clear us away”.

The chairman reveals in the statement that the football club had an application for a new stadium at Copthall almost ready to go before the Planning Committee but the council would not provide the club with the land assurances needed. The club now realises this was because they had already committed to give the site away to the Saracens, who want to take over Barnet FC’s home turf.

The football club was not advised in advance of the Saracens plans, which appeared out of the blue in a Press announcement during last season, despite ongoing discussions with councillors and officers over the years about the long standing Barnet FC wish to build a new stadium in the borough.

Saracens have been offered a virtual freehold for the multi acre stadium site at Copthall for free; Barnet FC have been asked for more than £200,000 just to renew the lease of their 5 – acre cricket club site to the south of Underhill.

When the current Saracens plans were revealed last season, the council asked Barnet not to object to the planning and promised to deal with outstanding land issues at Underhill, including the car park area and access and lighting for Priory Grove whilst finding an alternative site for the football club, which has been in Barnet since 1888. However, the issues at Underhill were left unresolved and the club were then told that NO site was available for them.

The previous Barnet FC application to move to Copthall was called in and turned down by the Minister (John Prescott) ten years ago after Barnet Council and Ken Livingstone, leader of the Greater London Council at the time, had given approval. Copthall was kept on the agenda in recent months during ongoing talks between the club and council but the council constantly refused to back a stadium for Barnet FC on the site.

“Our supporters should know what’s going on”, said the chairman, “Life has become very difficult since Mike Freer left as Leader of Barnet Council to become an MP. To compound matters we also have Saracens regularly approaching our sponsors and commercial partners driving money out of Barnet FC and the local Barnet community”.

In the last few months the club has sent legal letters to Barnet Council, to which they have yet to receive a full response, and have lobbied the London Mayor’s Office. ‘The Mayor seems very well informed and has a good grasp of the importance of a community based sports club like ours, we hope we can rely on his officers’ intervention to prevent this appalling situation from going any further’ said the chairman.

Barnet FC employs nearly 200 local people on a full and part – time basis and has 11community officers working in the borough for the community. The council have consistently attacked the club’s existence since 2002 and efforts to gain the support of MP Theresa Villiers have failed to resolve the difficulties the club faces.

Barnet FC has had a volatile, even hostile, relationship with the council in recent years. This improved when Councillor Freer was the leader but the latest developments suggest that it has slipped back.

“Now the dust has settled on the new football season we feel our supporters and the community should know what is going on behind the scenes”, says the chairman.

Strong words from Kleanthous!

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