The Barnet Stadium Mystery: Are Camden Council owed £1 million from playing fields deal?
Officers investigate whether council should have received a share of former school pitches site in Harrow
19 January, 2018 — By Richard Osley
Barnet play Coventry City at the Hive
FINANCE chiefs are investigating whether Camden has missed out on as much as £1million from the sale of playing fields which have become the home of Barnet Football Club.
The Town Hall confirmed last night (Wednesday) that it was looking at the complex arrangements which lay behind the disposal of Prince Edward Playing Fields in Edgware, once part-owned by Camden and used by some of the borough’s schools for PE lessons.
The site is in Harrow, and in 2001 ownership – and the cost of upkeep – was transferred fully from Camden to Harrow Council. A clause in that deal, however, is believed to have left Camden with the right to claim 50 per cent of any earnings from the site if was sold before 2041. The land was sold for £2million last year and is now The Hive stadium, owned by League Two strugglers Barnet, but Camden officials are unable to provide a record that it has received any money.
After enquiries by the New Journal, Labour finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski said: “We are examining how the complex agreements transferring the land from Camden to Harrow in 2001 should be interpreted, given how site development and ownership have progressed since then and whether, ultimately, Camden is owed money.”
His predecessor, Theo Blackwell, is also understood to have been looking into the details of the deal before he quit the Town Hall last year. Alumni of schools such as William Ellis in Highgate will recall being bused to the fields for football and rugby sessions in the 1990s.
Barnet FC – the Bees, the “second team” of many Arsenal and Spurs fans in north London – moved out of its more familiar home, Underhill, in 2013 with its old ground now being demolished in preparation for the building of an academy school. The club has since yo-yoed between League Two and non-league football via relegation and promotion on the field.
The issue was raised in the House of Commons last year by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who has irritated Barnet supporters by attacking the club’s use of the site in Harrow, claiming an influx of fans causes traffic problems. Barnet’s average home attendance is around 2,000. The club, meanwhile, is now claimed by supporters to be one of Harrow’s major employers. During his parliamentary outburst over the use of the site, Mr Blackman revealed Camden’s potential interest, telling MPs that the council had initially told him, wrongly, it had never had ownership of the fields.
He added: “Basically, the London Borough of Camden has only just woken up to the fact that it had owned the site and that it should be entitled to some funds were the site to be sold.” If he is proved right on the 50 per cent sell-on clause, his intervention could lead to his own local authority in Harrow having to pass on money to Camden.
A fan who has been watching the argument unfold in Harrow told the New Journal: “The sum is the same as an entire year’s budget for a school so it is a windfall that could be of great use to Camden at a time of austerity.”
Cllr Olszewski said: “I want to assure our residents that Camden Council will always seek to recover money we can prove to be owed to us in cases where this is in the interest of our taxpayers and the services we provide.”