AN alleged conflict of interest over Wasps’ plans to take over a village community’s sports facilities in the green belt has been denied – as a petition against it topped 2,000 names.
The community in Henley is up-in-arms over the Coventry-based former London rugby club’s latest proposals for a new training ground, which could once again displace a sporting community.
It has emerged the village’s 13-acre sports centre site is located in the green belt – and estimated to be used by 1500 people each week indoors and outdoors, including 10 football clubs, a school, college, disabled basketball team and many more.
It means “very special circumstances” would have to exist to override national green belt protections for any development there to gain planning permission.
It has also emerged that Wasps’ director Nick Eastwood is a governor of WCG (Warwickshire College Group) which wants to sell the site to Wasps.
The Observer asked Wasps, WCG and Mr Eastwood what he and both businesses had done to prevent (a) a conflict of interest and (b) an appearance of one. We also asked when Mr Eastwood became a WCG governor and why.
Only WCG responded, with the following statement: “Governors make an important contribution to the life of a college and its students, helping to ensure that it is run well and serves the needs of local people.
“Governors bring a formidable wealth of diverse experience which supports the work of the College Leadership Team. With the exception of the chief executive, all the other governors are non-executive appointments (not part of the Senior Leadership Team which manages the college).
“The college is fortunate in the strength of its governing body who with the exception of the chief executive are all unpaid.
“Nick had no involvement in bringing the two parties together and when he became aware of discussions declared his conflict of interests and absented himself from all discussions.”
WASPS ‘MISLEADING’ CLAIMS
Members of the Henley protest group had a meeting this week with representatives of the parish council, WCG and Wasps including Wasps’ chief executive Steven Vaughan, and the group unilaterally published detailed notes of the discussions.
They accuse Wasps of misleading the public in initial publicity when it announced the plan, alleging the impression was given that the proposal would only potentially affect 100 gym goers.
Invited to respond, Wasps and WCG “jointly” told us in written responses: “The figure of 100 was quoted in reference to members of the gym. We accept this figure was incorrect – it is just over 200, and that does not take into account users that are not members.”
PROTECTIONS FOR SPORTS FACILITIES
The Observer invited Wasps to clarify its understanding of its obligations within the planning process to provide suitable alternatives to local communities where sporting facilities are lost – as outlined by national and local sporting policies and provisions.
Wasps and WCG jointly responded: “Wasps have been in discussions with the planning authority to discuss all aspects of the site and associated obligations, and they will be addressed when an application for consent is made.”
The Henley campaign group also alleges in its notes of the meeting, which was not minuted, that Wasps had said that if “planning went through they would own the land, they would own the property with absolutely no legal obligation to do anything and they understand that Morton Morrell and Leamington aren’t close.”
They are supposedly potential relocation college sites for some of those affected – but are over ten miles away and are considered unsuitable by some of those involved.
Wasps and WCG jointly responded to us: “No minutes were taken at the private meeting and the notes which have been unofficially posted online are, in the view of Wasps and WCG, a misrepresentation of the meeting.
“There were long discussions on a whole range of community issues and how that could benefit Henley, and also the work WCG has undertaken to help organisations involved.
“But the fact remains that this is a private sale whereby Wasps aim to create a high-performance centre for their squad of elite athletes and thereby would not be generally open to the public.”
The campaign group also alleged it had discussed with Wasps that the Premiership rugby club should consider releasing another statement recognising the “community upheaval” involved and “displacing 1500 people a week”.
Wasps and WCG jointly responded to us: “That was discussed and agreed during the meeting. However, when the notes were posted on line with no reference to Wasps, WCG or the council, then the decision was made not to release the statement.”
The proposal follows the collapse of previous Wasps training ground plans for the Higgs centre in Coventry and Old Leamingtonians rugby club in Leamington.
A controversial move to displace Coventry City Football Club’s prized youth academy from the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way in Coventry fell through in 2017 amid protests and Wasps’ ongoing financial problems.
The formerly London rugby club – who came to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena after it was sold to them by Coventry council in 2014 in a dispute with the football club – had pledged to set up a permanent base in the city and bring inward investment.
The club’s temporary training base has been at Broadstreet rugby club near Binley Woods, where it was reported major former players were unhappy with facilities.