EXCLUSIVE: Leaked papers reveal Northampton Town's loan disaster could have been averted by land sale

Offers of up to £24.5 million to develop the land around Sixfields Stadium were on the table in January of last year, leaked papers have revealed.

Monday, 18th July 2016, 5:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 5:58 pm
Multi-million pound offers were made to develop the land around Sixfields Stadium in 2015, new evidence has revealed, but none were succesful.

The bundle of files, seen by the Chronicle & Echo, was sent by an anonymous source referred to only as ‘A Taxpayer” to members of Northampton Borough Council, and shows four companies had offered to buy the contaminated land around Sixfields.

Had any one of the deals gone through, the club would, potentially, not have found itself on the brink of liquidation.

All the offers for the 30-acre site were received between January and February 2015 and none were taken up.

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David Cardoza, centre, was chairman of Northampton Town and a director of County Developments (Northampton) Limited when the offers were made.

At the time leases on the land were held by County Developments (Northampton) Limited, the company set up to oversee the development around Sixfields Stadium.

The firm was originally a joint venture between the Cardozas and the Bushey-based County Group set up in 2013. However, by the time the offers were made, CDNL was entirely owned by the Cardozas after they had parted company with the County Group.

It was always the intention that the £10.25 million given to Northampton Town Football Club to develop Sixfields Stadium in 2013 and 2014 would be repaid by getting planning permission in place for the land around the ground and selling it to a retail developer.

Throughout that time, the Cardozas and County Group never managed to strike a deal with a buyer - meaning the loan to the council was never repaid.

David Cardoza, centre, was chairman of Northampton Town and a director of County Developments (Northampton) Limited when the offers were made.

However, the leaked documents show the whole saga might have been averted if any of the four offers put on the table for the land had been successful.

They were from developers Helical Retail Limited, Kier Project Investment Limited, Persimmon Homes and Aberdeen Assett Management.

Solihull-based Helical offered County Group, in a letter to director Howard Grossman, £24.5 million for the site on January 23, 2015, offering to build a 150,000 sq ft retail development.

Managing director Jonathan Cox, told the Chron this week, his company pulled out because they didn’t like the “financial arrangements” around the deal.

“They had a good parcel of land - they had a win-win situation,” he said. “They went from that to a lose-lose situation.

“If they had struck a deal with us the council could have got their £10 million back, the football club would have got their stand, but they were trying to be a bit too clever. They blew it.”

Aberdeen Assett Management’s £20 million offer was for 15 retail and leisure units, which could have included a TK Maxx and a River island.

Kier was not available for comment, though their headline offer would have been £23 million. A spokesman for Aberdeen Assett Management has also been approached for comment.

A spokesman for the land-buying team at Persimmon Homes, said the housebuilders pulled out of the deal because the contaminated former landfill site would not have been suitable for housing. Its offer was initially for £12 million.

A source linked to County Group claimed the reason none of the deals were struck was because Northampton Borough Council had not “signed off” on a planning sweetener deal.

In December 2014 County Group got planning permission in principal for a retail park, conference centre, hotel and up to 255 homes at Sixfields.

But as an agreement was never struck between the two parties about amount that would need to be put aside in planning sweeteners, otherwise called section 106 monies, the land never attained have full planning permission.

The County Group source claims they could not sell the land without planning permission in place, which they also claim was a result of delays at the borough council end.

By the time the offers were made in January and February 2015, CDNL was entirely owned David and Anthony Cardoza as they had parted company with the County Group at this stage.

A spokesman for Northampton Borough Council said: “A Section 106 agreement could only be signed once the land had been transferred to County Developments (Northampton) Limited. The transfer was conditional on the company proving that they were ready with a financially viable scheme for the development of the land, and had the funds available to move forward. They did not meet this condition and the council could not transfer the land without this.

“The borough council was not party to the correspondence that has been sent to the Chronicle & Echo, and we do not know why the offers mentioned were not taken forward by County Developments (Northampton) Limited.”

Leader of the borough’s Labour group, Councillor Danielle Stone, said the documents showed potential opportunities to sell the land were missed.

She said: “This new information throws up more questions than answers. It seems that there were some genuine possibilities that the land around Sixfields could have been developed for commercial and residential use. Some big businesses were very much interested in the development. Had an offer been taken up then the loan could have been repaid in full by NTFC. Why didn’t these people pursue the offers from these companies? Perhaps they were waiting for a better offer which never came.”