Sheffield Eagles CEO John Whaling has hit out angrily at Sheffield City Council, for what he perceives as their dishonesty in handling the club’s current plight.
The Eagles could cease to exist within a month, due to significant investors walking away from the club, mainly, it appears, due to issues with the building of a new stadium at the Olympic Legacy Park.
Whaling implies that a fair chunk of blame for the club’s situation lies with the Council, who, he alleges, have told “lies” and used bureacracy to obstruct processes.
“Back in May we were approached by an investor, who I have known for over 30 years, who asked about the opportunities at the Olympic Legacy Park (OLP,” said Whaling.
“He was interested in financing the stadium, taking over the Eagles and bringing rugby union to the site.
“In return he wanted to build a power station to generate electricity from waste that would normally go to land fill.
“He spoke directly to a director at Sheffield Council who appeared to be supportive and helpful. In June a piece of land was identified for the power station and things appeared to be moving in the right direction.
“I introduced the investor to the RFL and to the people at the OLP. The investor sent an email in June to the council asking for certain points to be clarified and asked for a meeting in the middle of July to go through it.
“The council couldn’t get the answers for middle of July so the meeting took place at the end of July.
“In that meeting the senior representative from the council was Paul Billington and he arrived to the meeting late and the first thing he asked me was what we were meeting to discuss.
“I told him it was to discuss the email that had been sent in June, he asked me to run through what was contained in the email.”
Love Rugby League has seen the email in question, and it outlines the concerns Whaling relates above, as well as specifics regarding the land lease, who would be entitled to the power generated by the energy plant, and how the development of a dual code rugby academy would function.
It also stresses that time is very much of the essence, and work is need urgently so that the issues affecting the club can be resolved.
Whaling maintains that the Council did not appear to have any answers to any of the issues raised, and continued to take a somewhat relaxed approach to the time schedule.
“They had no answers to any of the questions, apart from that they had now discovered that the land they had offered us did not belong to them, but to Sheffield International Venues (SIV),” he continued.
“We would have to speak to them to get a price to buy it. We duly spoke to Steve Brearley at SIV and an agreement in principle was done for the land.
“We then went back to the council and asked to be put in touch with someone in planning who could help and guide us through the process.
“It took four days to get the name even though we were told it would be sent over after the first discussion.
“When we got hold of the lady she told us she was going on holiday that night and would not be able to do anything for us for two weeks.
“We asked for another contact and finally got to speak to someone else the following week.
“This person told us that the land had been designated for B1 (business) use and that would not cover a power station.
“He told us we would have to apply for a change of use before we could move any further and that they were very busy so he would expect that to take at least eight weeks.
“We have now gone public about where we are and our disappointment with the support we have received from the council.
“Our investor is willing to spend £35 million on a power station, he is willing to supply the electricity generated to the council and SIV at a reduced price from what they are paying now, and guarantee the price for 10 years, making an estimated saving to the council and SIV of around £20 million over that time.
“He is willing to put £6 million into a community stadium and then sign the stadium over to the company running the Eagles debt free.”
Whaling has appeared on local radio to outline his arguments against Sheffield City Council’s handling of the situation, and has even accused the Council’s representatives of lying.
“I went on BBC Radio Sheffield last night and made some of these points,” he explained.
“I was followed by Paul Billington who told the public that we had been talking about the power station for weeks not months, that was a bare faced lie and the emails I have between the investor and the council proves that.
“The council keep saying that they have no money to help us.
“We have not asked them for money, we have asked for their support to help the investor to find a piece of land that is suitable to build a power station on and in return he will build a stadium, take over the Eagles and supply cheap power to the city.
“I think our request is quite reasonable and I had hoped for support but all we have is red tape and lies.”