High Court Day 3
May 19, 2015
Rovers’ Finance Director has said it will be a ‘catastrophe’ for the club if Sainsbury’s does not go through with its development of the Memorial Stadium site.
In his statement to the High Court, Toni Watola said the only outcome that would put the club in the position envisaged by the original agreement with the supermarket chain is if the deal goes ahead at the agreed contract price ‘without further delay’.
Mr. Watola’s comments came as he gave evidence at the hearing being held in London to determine whether Sainsbury’s was entitled to pull out of its deal to buy the site for £30m and build a new superstore – which would allow the club to go ahead with plans for a new stadium at the UWE’s Frenchay campus.
He said the UWE development was ‘highly time critical’ and that, if it did not go ahead, the financial consequences could be dire for the club.
Mr. Watola said: “In the long term, I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that losing the UWE site could be catastrophic to the financial wellbeing of the club. “Therefore, completing the existing deal with Sainsbury’s as soon as possible is of paramount importance.
He added: “Damages are unlikely to be an adequate remedy for the club, which would be left with nothing to show for four years hard work and effort to get this deal across the line. “This would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the directors, staff and supporters of the club, not to mention the wider North Bristol and South Gloucestershire communities which also stand to benefit from the wider stadium scheme.”
He also said the sale of the site, which Sainsbury’s agreed to pay over the odds to secure amid stiff competition from rival supermarkets, may be ‘crucial’ to the club’s future.
“This deal stood to generate more money for the development of the new stadium than would otherwise be achieved and allowed the club to plan a fantastic new facility without having to take on significant external debt,” he said. “In short, this was – and is – the key to the club’s long-term financial success and ultimately may be crucial to its survival.”
The finance director’s statement was read into evidence as the hearing’s third day drew to a close. It described how the Memorial Stadium was ‘increasingly dated and out of step with the requirements of a 21st century sports club and its supporters’, and said the proposed new facility would provide the club with much-needed extra revenue and a ‘first-class focal point for sport’ in the south west.
Mr. Watola also said the club was ‘disappointed’ with Sainsbury’s response in July 2013, after the supermarket was given planning permission by Bristol City Council – but only with restricted delivery hours.
He said: “We had anticipated that Sainsbury’s might need to jump through some hoops to get exactly the planning permission it needed.
“However, we were undoubtedly disappointed that, rather than committing to the purchase and then ironing out the remaining issues in the permission, Sainsbury’s had served a notice which could be a pre-condition to termination (of the agreement). “This indicated a lack of willingness on the part of Sainsbury’s to work with the club to get this deal across the line.”
Beginning his cross-examination of Mr. Watola, Sainsbury’s counsel, Mark Wonnacott QC, asked about the contract between the parties. The barrister raised the issue of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), or planning charge, imposed by Bristol City Council, which ended up being more than the £500,000 maximum Sainsbury’s had agreed to pay and which resulted in Rovers having to reduce the sale price of the Mem site by £1.6m.
Mr. Wonnacott asked why the club’s Chairman, Nick Higgs, was ‘so upset’ when Sainsbury’s said Rovers would have to pay the extra.
Mr. Watola responded: “Well the Chairman was upset because our position was that, over the previous 12 to 18 months, Sainsbury’s had not moved as fast as they could have done and that they were partly to blame for that increase in the CIL.” The barrister then asked: “When you asked Sainsbury’s to pay more than £500,000, who was trying to change the terms of the contract – was it Sainsbury’s, or was it Bristol Rovers?”
Mr. Watola initially replied that he didn’t see it as changing the contract and said the club was in a position where, if it had to stand the extra cost, it would ‘not have helped’ the viability of the new stadium project.
However, when asked again if Rovers was asking Sainsbury’s to change the terms of the contract in respect of Rovers having to absorb the increased CIL, he replied: “Yes”. The hearing continues.
(I didn’t get where I am today by being uncertain of my facts. Allegedly.)
The Recent Career Path Of Ben “Not Sure” Littman.
October 2014 – Present
( 8 months ) London.
January 2013 – October 2014
( 1 year 10 months ) Coventry.
January 2012 – January 2013
( 1 year 1 month )
January 2007 – January 2012
( 5 years 1 month )