Stadium, lease, planning, and other matters

8th Jul 2024

The following update was emailed to OxVox members on 5 July. To receive these updates immediately they are released, join OxVox today.

A long and busy couple of weeks has seen us in meetings and discussions with the club on a regular basis on various different subjects. As reported in our last update to Full members, we spoke at length to the club regarding the EFL report. Nobody is happy about the situation and it created tension at a time when everything should be upbeat and positive going into pre-season as a Championship club. That being said, while challenging the club firmly on their handling of the situation we are also aware mistakes can be made.
 
Progress is never completely linear and as our club grows we will be watching carefully to make sure the heart and integrity of the club is not compromised. Part of our role is often described as being a ‘critical friend’. In this instance it was right to question the club on how this was allowed to happen. The club in return were open about the mistake and laid out how it happened and the steps being taken to prevent it happening again. 

There are issues still to challenge them on regarding websites, inconsistencies in season ticket sales and other matters that members bring to us, but as we grow and hopefully get used to life in the Championship, while pushing hard for the new stadium, there is still so much to be positive about our fabulous football club. 

Stadium and lease contract

Mention of the stadium brings us nicely round to our meeting on Tuesday with Jon Clarke, Property Director at the club and the man who is leading the stadium bid. There were also members of our legal department and we were briefly joined by Adam Benson the commercial director who had to excuse himself to deal with other matters, but we will be sitting down with him soon to discuss members’ concerns with season tickets, the website and other issues in the near future.

Having been working on the stadium project for over five years, Tuesday felt like a really important day in the process. The protection of the club from the situation we now find ourselves in, detached from the stadium, and from issues other clubs have suffered, has been a priority from day one. On Tuesday we went through some of the details of the lease contract which contains those protections in a legal document and has been signed by both parties.

While some of the contract was understandably kept confidential, we were shown the protection clauses and given the chance to speak through them with the legal team. The head of the team is an Oxford local and a supporter of the club, and his passion to make sure all the bases were covered was clear from the start. Fuller details of the contract will no doubt be made public over time, but for now we will report on the clauses we have seen and discussed.

The main points of the contract we covered were:

  • The lease option has a five-year timescale once planning is granted, so the club have that long to take up the option after planning. That five year period could be extended if there were any delays in planning. 
  • The terms agreed in the lease remain in place for that period. 
  • The lease term is for 250 years from the point of being triggered, so effectively from when we wish to commence building. 
  • An agreed upfront payment will be made on activation of the lease and then a small nominal rent would apply. 
  • Match day activities take precedence over all other activities on site either now or in the future. This includes our women’s team and academy if needed. 
  • A clause protects the club from an owner, present or future, from barring the club entry to the ground. 
  • Any sub-letting of facilities or ancillaries on site cannot interfere with any football related activities such as match days.  
  • The stadium cannot be taken away from the club or used for non-football purposes. This, as with all protections, carries over no matter the owner or sub lease. Oxford United own the sole right to play their games at the new stadium, not the owners.  
  • In the event of the land ever going up for sale, Oxford United have a pre-emption clause to buy, and whoever it was sold to, the 250-year lease terms would still apply. 
  • Once planning is obtained, the club hold the right to trigger the lease when they see fit within the 5 year period agreed.

In effect these conditions and others have tried to cover every eventuality and effectively ensure that no matter what happens in the future regarding owners, money, or league, Oxford United will have a place to play football for the next 250 years.
 
There is a lot more work to do going through the details and I am sure sharper legal eyes may have questions, but having spent an hour grilling Jon and the legal team on potential scenarios, we left confident that a massively important milestone had been reached.

Planning

While of course it was disappointing and frustrating to see the planning decision knocked back it is not altogether a surprise with a huge project of this nature. With councils and politicians in the throes of a general election, it seems we have fallen foul of a process regarding time over which we have little control. We will continue to work hard, and use our fabulous membership and the amazing supporters to apply pressure when needed. The club are continuing to work incredibly hard to make sure everything is in place to get a positive outcome from planning.  We have waited an awfully long time to get in a position to be able to secure our future and build ourselves a new home and we won’t stop until we get there. At present we are looking at February of next year for a decision but we will keep members updated on progress as we move forward.

Temporary Fourth Stand

Conversations regarding a temporary fourth stand have been going on since shortly after our promotion. OxVox stated the case that we felt a fourth stand would be a massive boost for atmosphere and match day experience and potential fanbase. The club agree and have been working on feasibility. Sadly as it stands the money involved to rent, build, and run the stand under the strict EFL conditions would mean it not only would not make a profit, but it would also cost the club the price of a good midfielder.  While we have not given up on this cause as we feel it would make such a positive impact, we do understand the financial realities and as things stand (excuse the pun) it seems unlikely to go ahead.
 
Season Ticket sales and website

We have been working with the club and with OUSP on these issues and sharing members’ frustrations with both. We understand the website is a work in progress but it must be functional, especially at renewal time. We hope to speak to Adam Benson and Lee Barton in the coming days and please feel free, as with all topics, to contact us with any questions or observations you have. 

OxVox AGM 

We are currently working around the new fixture list and trying to secure the venue for the AGM at the stadium. We are fully aware this is overdue as explained in the update that covered it and are working hard to get it pencilled in. We will let you know as soon as we have a date confirmed. Thank you again for your patience with this.


Finally I’d like once again to thank those who have got in touch for their input. We will not get everything right or please all our members, and often we take a position based on information we can’t pass on, which makes explaining it all the more difficult. What I can say is that all of us on the committee work as hard as we can to reflect your views and to represent your wishes. We try to give a fair and frank representation of the club as we can and we never take the easy path just to gain credit or a pat on the back. The club is too important to us and to you to take shortcuts.

Thank you again and with international friendlies now a thing, we say as loudly as ever….COYY!

Paul Peros
Chairman
OxVox