Birmingham City fans have launched an audacious bid to stop any sale of the club's St Andrew’s ground.
Members of the Blues Supporters Trust are to apply to have their stadium locally listed – a designation which mean any scheme to have it redeveloped could be delayed and even halted.
The trust is to set to apply to Birmingham City Council, under the Localism Act 2011, to safeguard the long-term future of the ground.
St Andrew’s had been used by the club’s Hong Kong-based owners Birmngham International Holdings Ltd as security against loans made to the club in 2011 by banking giant HSBC.
It is understood that a small debt remains with the bank under this debenture agreement but that amount is dwarfed by the value of the St Andrew’s, the club’s home since 1906.
The trust is applying to have St Andrew’s listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).
The Act describes an ACV as “a building, or other land, is an asset of community value if its main use is, or has recently been, to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and it could do so in the future.”
The ACV request must be made by a voluntary or community body with a local connection and relate to land in the local authority’s area, or in the neighbouring local authority’s area
Fans of Oxford United this week won their battle to have the club’s Kassam Stadium listed as a community asset, meaning they will be notified if plans are hatched to sell it.
A listing lasts for five years and also includes should the stadium be put up for sale, a ‘right to bid,’ which can be lodged by the group concerned within a period of six weeks, with finance secured in a period of up to four-and-a-half months.
Steve McCarthy, Blues’ Supporters’ Trust chairman, said: “This essentially means that once listed, it cannot be sold off for another use without the local community or trust being informed.
“This also means councils have more power to refuse planning applications made by developers for change of use or demolition.
“It gives the local community six months to put forward a bid to buy the ground should it be put up for sale.
“Around the country, many supporters’ trusts are also taking advantage of the act,” he added.
He said the trust was not attempting to purchase St Andrew’s but was involved in depth at the possibility of applying to have the stadium listed under the act.
In the wake of the Oxford success, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust and Spirit of Shankly group of Liverpool fans are currently seeking listings for Old Trafford and Anfield respectively.
Tom Hall, of Supporters Direct, the governing body for supporters’ trusts, said: “There are still too many cases of football grounds being treated like any other asset, and this legislation gives us an opportunity to begin to change that assumption.
“The application to list the Kassam Stadium is the first successful one involving a football ground.
“We’ve had significant interest since we started promoting this scheme amongst out member supporters’ trusts, and both the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust and Spirit of Shankly are currently seeking listings for Old Trafford and Anfield.
“We hope that this successful application by Oxford fans, in many respects groundbreaking, encourages other supporters’ trusts to do the same.”
Communities minister Don Foster said: “For too long, communities have been shut out, forced to watch from the sidelines as treasured local assets, vital to people’s daily lives, have been shut-down and sold on.
“Communities can now decide what’s important to them and ‘stop the clock’ on sales so they have the time to get together a bid and ensure that the local assets that they care about get the best chance to live on.”
Several Football League clubs have sold their grounds only to lease them back or move to another stadium.
Fans of near neighbours Coventry City are protesting against plans to play home games outside the city following a dispute with owners of the Ricoh Arena, where the Sky Blues moved after selling its Highfield Road ground.
Birmingham City declined to comment on the trust’s plan. It is understood that there are no plans for St Andrew’s to be sold.