A decision by Thanet council to sell the freehold of the WW Martin Community Stadium to long term tenants Ramsgate Football Club will boost long-term plans to create an enterprise and education centre at the site, says chairman James Lawson.
Last October Mr Lawson told The Isle of Thanet News of the ambition spend between “£2-£3million” on a new stand on the north side of the stadium which will also serve as a college for 14 to 16 year olds.
With the approval to sell the lease, confirmed at a Thanet council Cabinet meeting last night (September 22) these plans can now take a step forward.
The club is currently on a held over lease which ran for 21 years from 1st May 1992 at a rent of £1,500 per annum.
The council approval means the club can buy the freehold for the site for £265,000 with a 50% overage provision on any uplift in value following a change of use, and a restriction on the use of the land, limiting it to uses as a football club and associated purposes only.
A clause is due to be included to mean the land cannot be sold for a five year period.
Ramsgate Football Club has been on the site for more than 70 years and provides a service to the community, encouraging children to play sport. It is one of the organisations which takes part in the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme which aims to address food poverty, inactivity, isolation and learning loss by children, through activities and the provision of a hot meal and healthy snacks during school breaks.
Community use at the club has benefitted from a £1 million investment for the new Sun Deck (pictured), WW Martin stadium and 3G pitch, with the all-weather surface meaning the ground can be used “every minute of every day” by players of all ages and also by schools, colleges, youth organisations and community teams.
During the council meeting Cllr Rick Everitt said he was in support of the freehold sale, which would enable the club to apply for external grants, but questioned whether the site was ‘ideal’ for its use and raised the possibility that success could mean the need for a bigger ground and failing fortunes could also be problematic.
He suggested a higher overage rate – where value above the sale price is split between the club and council in the event of a sale -and asked for assurance that the restriction on use was adequate. He added that it was ‘no reflection’ on Ramsgate FC but the council has a “duty to the tax-payers of Thanet to protect their interests as well.”
Officers said the restriction is in the land title and so ‘permanent,’ and would have to have changes approved by the authority.
Council leader Ash Ashbee said: “It is a hell of a lot more than a football club, “adding: “It is not just football, it is the HAF programme. The club has built up a very close relationship with the local community, so from that point of view I think it is in the ideal place.”
Mr Lawson said: “The football club recently invested in the stadium to upgrade it to a modern 3G facility that has propelled them to become one of the leading community clubs in the country.
“They now have nearly 1,000 youth players, an extensive holiday programme that over 400 local families regularly attend and the club attract over 3,000 people from Thanet and the surrounding areas through the gate every week for a variety of activities and events.
“The current investment has created a safe space, trusted by local families as an environment for both enjoyment and education.
“The club, via its charity called the Ramsgate Active Education Foundation, has full time members of staff in local schools and utilises these relationships in collaboration with its hundreds of local business partners to create a unique area for education and employment to mix.
“The decision to sell the freehold to the club is a huge stride towards its ultimate ambition of building a new stand that can become a mixed enterprise and education centre to achieve goals of reducing local unemployment and help increase average salaries.”