If the leadership of Birmingham City Council had wanted to produce a text book detailing how not to go about obtaining approval for a major planning application, the shambles surrounding the £32 million makeover of Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s Edgbaston ground would be a best seller.
It appears to people living close to the ground that the council executive, in the shape of the cabinet, is determined to railroad this through come what may – an impression strengthened by city leader Mike Whitby’s announcement, before the proposal managed to get anywhere near the planning committee, that the council was prepared to lend WCCC £20 million on generous terms toward the cost of improving the ground.
And then, in a blatant show of force, it was arranged that the cabinet should rubber-stamp the loan three days before WCCC’s application was to be considered by the planning committee.
It didn’t take councillors long to realise that Coun Whitby was being rather presumptuous, and they promptly refused to grant approval for the new stands, floodlighting, hospitality facilities, houses, flats, offices and hotels that the club says are essential if Birmingham is to retain test match cricket.
Days later, a scrutiny committee extracted its revenge by forcing the cabinet to reconsider the loan – the mood of members not lightened in any way by the failure of Coun Whitby, or any cabinet member, to turn up to answer their questions.
As we demonstrate today, the scrutiny committee was in possession of a critical auditors report about the ground improvement plan. In our estimation, since almost all of the £32 million cost of improving Edgbaston is to be borne initially by the public purse, the key conclusions of this report ought to be freely available to council tax payers.
The findings of consultants Deloitte are that the club has over-estimated the number of test matches and one-day internationals Edgbaston will be able to attract, even with the ground improvements, and this will hit income streams. Targets for income from non-matchday events is also said to be on the high side.
As things stand now, the club is unlikely to get planning permission unless it reduces the scale of what is being proposed – which may in itself reduce the need for a £20 million loan. But matters would not have got to this stage if the various sides involved had talked to each other from the beginning.