Non-League Football

The Top Field debate set to take a new twist as deadline passes

P1050660There was good news for Hitchin Town this week when the February 28 deadline over the exercise of a break clause on the club’s lease of Top Field, the club’s home since 1928, was not exercised.

If the developer, New Road (Clifton) had exercised the break clause, with the plans to place a supermarket development on Top Field, the club could have been heading for a new purpose-built site on the outskirts of town.

This represents a significant hurdle for the football club and current leaseholder Andy Melvin, who has been battling with the Cow Commoners, the club’s landlords, for 24 years.

Melvin said in a brief statement: “Obviously it’s great news for the football club that Richard Daniels from New Road (Clifton) and the Cow Commoners have failed to exercise the break clause in our lease and therefore, we cannot be evicted from Top Field.”

But it is not all plain sailing for Hitchin. The option agreement on Top Field that was signed between the Cow Commoners and New Road, which Melvin has been advised is in breach of charity law, could require a judicial review before it can be set aside.

Melvin added, however: “We are hopeful that this will not be necessary and that we can move on from this saga in a positive manner and engage in open discussions on how we can provide a community football club the town can be proud of.”

Since the plans for Top Field were announced, the supermarket sector has been going through some turmoil, which may have been the reason for the break clause not being exercised.

But it may be someone is listening to public opinion. The groundswell of emotion against the Cow Commoners’ plans is significant. The club has already held successful public meetings and a march in December that attracted around 5% of the town’s population. And in October, Hitchin & Harpenden Member of Parliament, Peter Lilley, pointed the trustees in the direction of the Charity Commission, the government body that regulates charities in the UK. Lilley was concerned about the plans for Top Field.

Hitchin Town will be relieved that the February 28 deadline did not bring an even bigger headache. Melvin’s comment may be key – presumably “open discussions” means dialogue with the trustees?

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