On October 7th 2013 the Rovers Trust announced that their attempt to get Ewood Park listed as an Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act 2011 had been successful. Ewood Park has been the home of Blackburn Rovers Football Club since 1890.
‘Paul Brooking, executive officer at the Rovers Trust, compiled the nomination and said: “We are delighted the council agrees with us that Ewood Park holds a special place in the local community and with the people of East Lancashire.
Dating back more than 120 years the famous old ground has been built, rebuilt and built again under the stewardship of several philanthropic and far-sighted owners, most recently by Jack Walker. Blackburn Rovers fans will welcome this protection of the ground Jack Walker built for the team and for the supporters. Ewood Park should continue to be the home of Blackburn Rovers for many generations to come.”
The Localism Act 2011 was designed to transfer powers from central to local government. Its explanation that ‘We think that power should be exercised at the lowest practical level – close to the people who are affected by decisions, rather than distant from them,’ is strongly reminiscent of the doctrine of subsidiarity, an important theme of EU law.
Its provisions include giving a general power of competence to local authorities, i.e. they are not limited to exercising powers granted by statute, but have the right to do anything that an individual could legally do. The Act also provides for elected mayors in large cities.
Assets of community interest
The particular provisions on ‘assets of community value’ are contained in sections 87-108 of the Localism Act 2011.
s.87 provides that ‘A local authority must maintain a list of land in its area that is land of community value’, this is defined in s.88 as land which in the opinion of the authority is in a current use that furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, and it is realistic to think that this use can continue.
The local authority can only include the land in its list of community assets in response to a community nomination (s.89) which in this case came from the Rovers Trust (‘a person that is a voluntary or community group with a local connection – s. 89(2)(b)(iii)). If the local authority reaches the conclusion that the nominated land meets the test in s.87 (social wellbeing) then it must list the land.
To apply this to Ewood Park, Blackburn with Darwen Council had to consider the nomination from the Rovers Trust. On finding that the football ground was in a current use that furthered the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community test, it was required to list the land.
The principal effect of listing is a moratorium (i.e. a period of delay) on the disposal of the land by the owners (s.95). It aims to prevent the sale of socially important assets without notice and without giving any community interest group the opportunity to be treated as a potential bidder. The moratorium would allow any community group a more realistic timeframe for raising funds and bring community and political influence to bear on any potential sale.
The listing decision of October 2013 therefore prevents the current owners of Ewood Park, who are the owners of Blackburn Rovers Football Club, from selling the ground without notice or the chance for the Rovers Trust (or any other community group) to bid for the asset.
Football grounds are not highlighted, in the Department for Communities and Local Government explanatory document, amongst the sorts of assets ‘that play a vital role in local life’. These are outlined as including libraries, swimming pools and pubs. Ewood Park is nevertheless the third football ground to be listed as an asset of community value under the Localism Act 2011. This is a trend which is likely to continue.
Football clubs are increasingly owned by individuals and corporations who have a limited connection to the local area and community where the club is based. In these circumstances, the club’s playing ground is more likely to be regarded as an ordinary commercial asset to be retained or disposed of as the commercial interests of the owners dictate. The club’s fans are unlikely to regard the ground as an ordinary commercial asset. Crucially, listing decisions are taken by local authorities who ought to be, in theory at least, responsive to community concerns, especially the sort of broad-based concerns that a football club can evoke.
OpenLawMap is concerned with the unique geography of its sites, so I will revert to personal reflections on Ewood Park. It is the place where my Grandad when to see football as a young boy in the 1920s and 1930s, and where he took my Mum to see the great players of the 1950s, above all Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas. It is where my Dad took me to see our local team and where I have returned to from various parts of the country for 30-odd years since. The highlight of my playing career, in the brief window before my teachers and coaches realised just how poor I was, was playing in the Blackburn and District Junior School Cup Final at Ewood. Its physical location amongst red-brick terraced houses in the former weaving district of Ewood and between the towns of Blackburn and Darwen is distinct and evocative of a particular history and continuing role.
For relatively small towns that continue to have relatively successful football clubs, the club and its ground with their national (and sometimes international) profile, are a big deal. As an example of land that is treasured by the local community as furthering their social interest, but is potentially vulnerable to being treated otherwise by its owners, Ewood Park is an ideal candidate for the useful (albeit limited) protections that listing as an asset of community value under the Localism Act 2011 can provide.
Full disclosure – I am a member of the Rovers Trust but was not involved in the ‘asset of community value’ nomination process.
Michael Dohertycomments powered by Disqus