Design & Development

Forest makes City Ground threat amid lease deal dispute

The City Ground in Nottingham, England

Main image credit: Arran Bee/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size

Second image: Notts County

English Premier League football club Nottingham Forest has warned that it could look to relocate from the City Ground amid a dispute with Nottingham City Council over the lease deal for its historic home.

Forest has long-held plans to redevelop what has been its home since 1898, but has been frustrated in recent years by bureaucratic red tape. The club is currently operating under a 50-year contract struck in 2011 for the prime real estate on the banks of the River Trent.

The BBC has now reported that talks over an extension have stalled over the Council’s demands the current £250,000 (€292,000/$316,000) rent is increased to around £1m per year. This comes with the government having last month appointed commissioners to help run the Council after the authority declared itself effectively bankrupt.

Meanwhile, Forest has stressed that it needs to secure an extension to the lease, or potentially buy the freehold to the land, to commit to investment in redeveloping the City Ground. Chairman Tom Cartledge said: “We find ourselves in a position where for the first time we’re having to consider whether the future is going to be away from the City Ground.

“In the future, football clubs’ wage bills are going to be very heavily linked to revenue. If we can’t grow the revenue, there is a realistic chance we cannot achieve our objectives and grow the playing side and give the manager the resources he needs.

“Unless we start to see some significant progress, it is now having to be a realistic discussion point as to look elsewhere. I’m frustrated, the owner (Evangelos Marinakis) is frustrated, because what he wants to do is give back what he promised the people of Forest, which is growth on and off the field and not to be able to do that is tough.”

The latest news comes after it was reported last month that Forest is working on plans to expand the City Ground’s capacity to 40,000, from its current level of 29,550. This would see the Bridgford Stand extended by a further 5,000 seats, along with replacing the Peter Taylor Stand with a two-tier 10,000-seat facility. A new training ground is also in the offing, along with a club museum.

In June 2019, it was announced that Forest would be able to press ahead with redevelopment work at the City Ground after securing a new 250-year lease at the stadium. The Council agreed to grant the club the lease following “extensive negotiations” over a planned expansion to 38,000 seats.

The current 50-year agreement was due to be superseded by the 250-year extension, however the deal was never completed, with Forest instead continuing to operate under the 50-year contract struck in 2011.

In July 2022, the original project, which was initially set to focus on rebuilding the Peter Taylor Stand, was given the green light by Rushcliffe Borough Council. Forest had planned on starting work last summer but it was reported in March 2023 that this could be pushed back to 2024 due to complexities relating to the planning permission and other considerations.

A Council spokesperson yesterday (Thursday) said it has been in talks with the club, adding: “This includes retaining the current arrangement, negotiating a new lease, or potentially selling the freehold on a permanent basis.

“These latest talks, approved by the authority’s executive board in November last year, are ongoing and, by their nature, complex. The 2019 deal did not progress as it didn’t meet the council’s statutory obligation to achieve ‘best consideration’. The authority has now employed specialist agents to advise on the matter.

“We know Forest’s importance to our city and are extremely proud of their recent success – as we are with other sporting clubs like Notts County, the Panthers and Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. We also have a statutory duty to ensure best value for taxpayers in finding an agreement which works for both the local authority and the club.

“The council remains committed to further negotiations to find the best way forward and has offered to continue dialogue. We understand Forest’s need for a swift resolution and their ambition for expansion which will bring benefit to the area, and will work with them on a solution which meets their aims and our statutory responsibilities.

“Any proposed new terms or agreements would need to be brought back to executive board for consideration and approval.”

Forest in January acknowledged the Premier League’s decision to refer the club over a breach of the organisation’s profitability and sustainability rules. Forest is alleged to have sustained losses above the permitted thresholds for the assessment period ending with the 2022-23 season.

County sets out fanzone plan

In other news, League Two club Notts County has submitted a planning application to the Council for what it states will be a “best-in-class” fanzone and event space next to Meadow Lane stadium.

Subject to approval, the plans will seek to transform the matchday experience on offer to supporters with a giant screen, state-of-the-art sound system, large bar area and street food vendors.

The venue will also operate on non-matchdays, enabling the club’s charitable arm, Notts County Foundation, to deliver and develop its range of projects while also allowing County to provide a variety of events to the local community throughout the year.

Previously occupied by East Midlands Fabrications, the site of the proposed development offers 12,000 square feet of indoor space and also has a large outdoor area.

Notts County chief executive, Joe Palmer, said: “After many months of planning, we’re excited to bring news of this major project to our fans and the wider community.

“With an average attendance of over 11,000, and work ongoing to drive even higher crowds in the months and years ahead, it was imperative that we sought to provide our growing fanbase with the exciting matchday experience they deserve.

“At present we’re unable to offer adequate food, beverage and entertainment facilities but, with these plans, we can look forward to providing one of the very best fanzones in the country – similar to Wembley’s Boxpark, where many of our supporters were accommodated for last summer’s play-off final.

“Away from matchday, the space will be made available to our Foundation to help them with their incredible work, while it will also significantly aid the club’s journey towards financial sustainability by enabling us to host events such as live sport screenings, food markets, beer festivals and much more.”