A few years back, Blues Trust applied to have St Andrew’s listed as an asset of community value (ACV), which would make the ground subject to additional protection from development under the Localism Act 2011.
Back then, this was taken out due to the worry that the whole club would collapse due to Carson Yeung’s ongoing trial for money laundering. While that crisis never came to pass, it does seem relevant now to find out how much protection ACV status offers the club.
What does “Asset of Community Value” mean?
The idea of a register of assets of community value was that buildings important to a community would be offered extra protection from being developed against a community’s wishes.
Registration as an asset of community value has three aspects.
The first aspect is that the community is given a right to bid for the building. A community can apply to have a six-month moratorium placed against the sale of a building with an ACV listing, giving the community the chance to raise funds themselves to make a bid. However the seller has no obligation to accept the offer or for the community to be treated as a preferential bidder.
Likewise, the local authority or council can compulsory purchase an ACV-listed building “if the asset is under threat of long-term loss to the community”
There is also a question with regards to planning. Although it’s not a part of the enacted legislation, the ACV may be material consideration in a planning application and may be used by the local planning authority and Planning Inspectorate as a factor in refusing planning permission for full or partial change, or for demolition. The decision whether the ACV listing is a material consideration lies with the Local Planning Authority.
In effect, the idea of the ACV listing is to give the community every chance to stop a building which is important to it to be knocked down or used for another purpose.
Is St Andrew’s registered as an ACV?
So here’s where it gets tricky. I asked Blues Trust to confirm the current ACV status as the Land Registry record is inconclusive.
The original ACV listing was made in 2014 and lasted for five years. Blues Trust sent an application to renew this in January 2019, which was well within the eight week period recommended for application for renewal.
However, it’s safe to say that Birmingham City Council were less than efficient.
While the Trust did receive some help from the council in the end, the process took six months, which meant that the ACV status was potentially lapsed when Birmingham City Stadium Ltd bought the ground.
However, as the Land Registry record still has not been updated with the date of when that happened, or when the listing was renewed, we can’t actually know for sure if the ACV was in place when the sale went through.
The Trust advised me that they believe the current ACV status of St Andrew’s is uncertain.
While St Andrews is listed on the council’s ACV register, the Trust are unsure if that listing still holds water bearing in mind the change of owner from Birmingham City plc to BCSL, or if it remains in place regardless of who actually owns the ground.
They are following up with the council about the legalities of the current position, but as you can imagine from previous experience it’s not anticipated that they will receive a quick response.
Assuming the ACV is in place, what protection does the club have?
To find the answer to this question, I turned to John Jowitt of PJP Planning, who has been a long-term supporter of this site and whose expert opinion I’m glad to be able to call upon.
I asked him what he thought and he sent me the following:
Anyone wishing to sell an Asset of Community Value must inform their local council. There is then a 6-month period during which the owner cannot sell the property on the open market, allowing community groups to develop a proposal and raise any necessary capital to buy it themselves (the Community Right to Bid). I presume that because it was the holding company that was sold, not the ACV itself that was sold, this requirement was not triggered in the recent sale.
There are, other requirements if someone wanted to redevelop St Andrew’s. Decisions on planning applications have to be made in accordance with the policies of the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The Birmingham Development Plan (adopted January 2017) strongly supports sports provision, in line with government guidance, and states:
“Sports and physical activity facilities will be protected from development, unless it can be demonstrated that they are surplus to requirements through a robust and up to date assessment of need. Where there is identified need for particular sports and physical recreation facilities, the loss of existing sports facilities for these sports will not be allowed unless an equivalent or better quantity and quality replacement provision is provided.” (Policy TP11)
Similarly, government guidance (National Planning Policy Framework) states:
“Para 96: Access to a network of high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and physical activity is important for the health and well-being of communities. Planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the need for open space, sport and recreation facilities (including quantitative or qualitative deficits or surpluses) and opportunities for new provision. Information gained from the assessments should be used to determine what open space, sport and recreational provision is needed, which plans should then seek to accommodate.
Para 97: Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
a) an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
b) the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or
c) the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the benefits of which clearly outweigh the loss of the current or former use.”
In short, I see no chance of St Andrews being redeveloped for anything else unless a new ground, of equivalent or better quality were provided.
On the face of it, as long as the ACV is in place and is not affected by the change in ownership from Birmingham City plc to Birmingham City Stadium Ltd, there should be nothing to worry about.
However, I’m going to admit that I have some scepticism, based on my poor opinion of Birmingham City Council and their performance on this subject.
The Trust had a lot of trouble renewing the application for an ACV with the application literally sitting on someone’s desk for two months, and I can’t help but wonder how effectual the council would be if there was a planning application for a change of use for the land St Andrew’s stands upon.
It doesn’t help that the club have offered zero comment to questions put to them about this by the Birmingham Mail.
While I don’t expect the club to go into detail, is it too much to ask that the club puts out a statement saying that they anticipate no issues with the change of landlord at the ground, and that it’ll be business as usual?