PREVIOUSLY-unseen documents have shed new light on the collapse of Leeds City Council’s multi-million pound bid to buy Leeds United’s Thorp Arch training ground.
Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows council bosses wanted to know exactly who they would be dealing with if the purchase went through and so asked for “full details” of United’s shareholders. It is not clear if the details were forthcoming – but just over a week after the request, the deal collapsed.
E-mails from United to the council also indicate some reluctance on the club’s part to offer up the shareholder information.
In one message to council officials, Leeds’s then chief executive Shaun Harvey said he “can not [sic] see the justification for shareholders under 30% as they cannot exert influence which is surely the point”. Mr Harvey then raises the council’s role in the 2007 sale of Leeds Bradford Airport to private equity group Bridgepoint.
He said: “On a separate but related note how did you get yourself comfortable with all the ‘members’ of the fund that bought the airport from the consortium of local councils. Surely you didn’t enquire about every member in the same way as you are seeking here?”
The Thorp Arch deal collapsed in October 2009, during Ken Bates’ time as United chairman. Leeds faced criticism over their ownership structure in the Bates years, with some supporters being unhappy at what they saw as a lack of transparency.
In one letter to the council from August 2009, marked ‘strictly private and confidential’, Mr Harvey writes that it is “imperative” that United’s option to repurchase Thorp Arch is exercised.
Following the deal’s collapse on October 15 2009, United blamed conditions being sought by the council. The council at the time would not elaborate on the conditions it had been seeking, other than to say they were designed to protect the interests of the taxpayer.
STORY OF A SALE WITH £6 MILLION CLAUSE
Cash-strapped Leeds United sold Thorp Arch to Manchester businessman Jacob Adler for £4m in 2004 but remained as tenants.
They also negotiated a £6m buyback option that expired in October 2009.
The council agreed in principle to purchase the facility in September 2009 after an appeal for help from Leeds, who were reportedly unable to raise the required money elsewhere as a result of their poor credit rating following a spell in administration in 2007.
Under the terms of the proposed deal, the site would have been leased to United for a fixed period, at the end of which the club would have been able to buy it. Thorp Arch, near Wetherby, today remains under third party control, with Leeds still in place as tenants.