Express & Star

Clubs left in limbo as Cannock's Chase Park sports ground locked up

Members of Cannock Cricket & Hockey Club have been locked out of their Chase Park home after it was put into receivership.

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A sign on the entrance to Chase Park, the home of Cannock Cricket & Hockey Club

Bosses at the clubs are desperately working to rearrange fixtures after receivers arrived at the site, in Church Lane, Hatherton, amid a dispute between developer Craig Watts Ltd and Sport England.

The wrangle centres on the length of lease being offered to the cricket and hockey clubs which operate from Chase Park as part of the proposed development to turn the under-used pavilion and bar into apartments, while building new clubhouses for the cricket and hockey clubs.

Sport England, which has a legal charge until 2029 over the site’s artificial hockey pitch following funding in 2008, has demanded a 15-year lease be put in place for the cricket fields and hockey facilities while the developer wants a 10-year lease.

A sign at the entrance to Chase Park, which is next to the A5 in Hatherton

It is understood both clubs are happy with the developer’s 10-year lease proposal.

Chase Park owns the freehold of the site and receivers were sent in by the firm’s creditors Promontoria.

Although the cricket and hockey clubs are based at the ground they are not affected by the receivership.

Representatives of both clubs, which operate independently of one another under the same Chase Park umbrella, were at the ground trying to resolve the matter yesterday after being called in at 7.30am.

Loan, debt, receivers

Receivers from Duff & Phelps of London Ltd locked up the site yesterday morning.

The receivers are acting on behalf of Promontoria Pine DAC, a so-called vulture capitalist group which holds a charge on the land after buying up the site’s debt from the Allied Irish Bank during the financial crisis of 2008.

The crisis stems from Chase Park’s long-term loan, taken out in 2008, to relay an artificial hockey pitch.

That debt was sold by the Allied Irish Bank to Promontoria during the financial crisis.

Receivers from Duff & Phelps of London Ltd locked up the site on Wednesday

All parties insist no payments have been missed but Promontoria refused to enter into a new loan agreement last year and recently refused an extension to the agreement to allow the dispute to be resolved, instead sending in receivers.

A statement by the executive group of Chase Park said: “It is with deep regret that Chase Park has gone into receivership.

“At this stage all relevant sports clubs are working with the receivers. A further statement will be made in due course.”

Are Sport England helping the sports clubs?

While the clubs fight to try to secure their futures, cricket club bosses have written to South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson, whose constituency covers Chase Park, Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling, Minister for Sport Mims Davies and Nick Bitel, the chairman of Sport England to plead for help to resolve the issue.

There are also knock-on fears for scores of other users of the site, including Cannock Hatherton Bowls Club, Cannock Tennis Club, plus many children from schools which use the site, including St Luke’s Primary, Longford Academy and Chase Grammar School.

In the letter, cricket club honorary secretary Graham Machin says: “We are in a position which finds our future not just threatened but in imminent jeopardy.

"Our 22-acre site is also used by Cannock Hockey Club, who are also in the same position.”

He adds: “Whilst we understand Sport England will have policies and procedures in place to protect sports, at this point it feels like its firm stance on a 15-year lease appears to be doing the opposite, putting the in-house clubs out of business.”

A spokesman for the hockey club added: “The clubs are currently in discussions with England Hockey and local clubs to find alternative playing facilities, until a new owner of the site is found.

"We thank our members and England Hockey for their continued support and we will provide further updates in due course.”

He said the club is in daily dialogue with England Hockey to keep the men’s and ladies’ teams playing in the Cannock area, wherever possible.

Cannock-based developer Craig Watts, who has provided ongoing financial support for the site over a number of years, said he was deeply saddened by the situation.

A Sport England spokesman said: "Having previously invested in the hockey facilities at this site, Sport England were disappointed to have been made aware earlier today that receivers were on site at the club. The club owns the site but had experienced financial difficulties. We understand the administrators have been appointed as a result of non-payment of their debts. We await formal contact from the appointed receiver.”

No-one from the receivers responded to calls from the Express & Star.