Leeds United have backed Leeds United Supporters’ Trust’s application to make Elland Road an Asset of Community Value (AoCV). This application has now been formally granted by Leeds City Council.
What does an ‘Asset of Community Value’ mean?
In simple terms, an AoCV enables four key things:
- Community right to bid: Elland Road cannot now be sold without community groups (such as the Supporters’ Trust in this instance) being informed and given a right to bid to purchase it. If a community group is then interested in purchasing the asset (the stadium) they would have a six week period to make clear their intentions on whether they intend to bid. If they declare their intentions to bid, the six-week period is extended to six months (the moratorium), allowing time to find a buyer/funding, agree a package and prepare the bid. This effectively means that Leeds fans will not wake up one morning to read in the paper that the Stadium has been sold, with no recourse, and the AoCV provides a level of security against secret sales.
- Material planning consideration: An AoCV can be used as a reason to refuse planning permission for change of use or demolition. In other words, Elland Road cannot be used for any primary purpose other than a football ground, while it is protected by an AoCV.
- Strategic partnerships: The joint listing of the AoCV by the triumvirate of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, Leeds United Football Club and Leeds City Council places Elland Road at the very heart of the community it serves, as it approaches the Club’s centenary year.
- Compulsory purchase rights: In extreme circumstances, an AoCV-registered building can be compulsory-purchased by the local authority or council “if the asset is under threat of long-term loss to the community”. For example, if the club wished to sell the ground and the Trust or any other community group could not find a willing buyer in the moratorium period, Leeds City Council would have first option to purchase Elland Road, to further prevent it potentially falling into disreputable hands.
As Leeds United approaches its Centenary year in 2019, we start to reflect upon where it all began. One of the enduring attractions of English football is how its clubs were forged in local communities, by local people. Even now, some of the most famous football grounds in the country emerge from lines of tightly-packed terraced houses, surrounded by pubs and corner shops. These are integral to the community they serve, and have been since long before the football club even existed.
Elland Road: an iconic football ground full of history
This is particularly true of Elland Road, which was first used as a sports ground by rugby teams in the late 19th century, at which time it was known as the Old Peacock Ground. It was subsequently used by Leeds City in 1904 (when they were elected to the Football League), and then by Leeds United from 1919.
Elland Road has been developed from an open field with temporary stands and terraces dug into mud banks, into an internationally-renowned stadium. Much of that work has been carried out by local people, and the surrounding landscape has been transformed beyond recognition, often directly because of the success of Leeds United.
Football stadiums are not only the heart and soul of every club, they are rooted in the communities that surround them. They are the focal point of a town or a city, an indelible landmark forever etched on our vision – the very image of home and belonging.
While the Supporters’ Trust appreciate the owners of Leeds United have no current plans to move or sell Elland Road, the approval of the AoCV is a decision that helps to protect fans’ interests in the long term, as no one knows what the future holds. There have been periods in the distant past where fans of Wrexham, Brighton & Hove Albion, Doncaster Rovers and Coventry City, amongst others, could never have dared to contemplate what the owners of their respective clubs would go on to do with their cherished football grounds.
The importance of a football ground to its supporters
An AoCV gives communities the opportunity to retain land and buildings for use and ownership by the people who value them most. The new community rights were introduced via the Localism Act 2011, and their aim is to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community. In the case of Elland Road, the new rights have ensured that even a global iconic institution like Leeds United will remain rooted in the community in which it was founded. The first fans’ group to successfully apply for their club’s ground to become an AoCV were Oxford United in 2013, since then Old Trafford, Anfield, St James’ Park and many others have gone down the same route.
Elland Road, as a stadium and what it represents, is incredibly important to both Leeds United supporters and the local community. It matters to people who attend football matches, people who work at the club and to those who live within close proximity. To Leeds United fans, the club is more than just a business, it is about identity and community and an AoCV makes that more than just empty words, it provides something tangible and solid. Leeds fans can now exercise their community right to keep Leeds United at its spiritual home, by protecting Elland Road’s future and being part of any process in the event of it being sold.
Why the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust has done this now
The Trust has waited until now to make this application for the AoCV, because it believes we now have a football club ownership that recognises the importance of its fans and the local community, and sees the value in protecting the stadium in the long term.
The club’s new owners don’t see the Trust’s move as an aggressive action to halt their plans, in fact just the opposite; they see it as an opportunity to foster strong bonds between club and fans, and they have embraced it. The club have been receptive to our application and fully understand its significance and importance. This means that Leeds United, its fans and Leeds City Council all agree on the magnitude and emotional value of Elland Road, and this is formally recognised and legally recorded in the AoCV.
It is truly our hope that we will not ever have to use the AoCV legislation. In an ideal world the AoCV approval will sit simply as an idle reminder that we are more protected should the worst ever happen.
In football, as in life, nothing is forever, but this aligns with our vision of safeguarding the future of the club but, perhaps more crucially, it ensures that fans have a voice in that future