Council votes down 'ridiculous' call to guarantee Gateshead FC 10-year stadium lease now

Gateshead FC fans outside the International Stadium.
-Credit: (Image: Iain Buist/Newcastle Chronicle)

A call to guarantee Gateshead FC a 10-year tenancy at the International Stadium now has been voted down by councillors.

Gateshead’s Liberal Democrats urged the Labour-run council on Thursday to commit that it would compel any external operator who might take over the stadium from the local authority to keep the football club as a tenant. Labour leader Martin Gannon accused the opposition party of a “ridiculous” proposal that he claimed risked exposing the local authority to legal action if it was enforced.

The future of the International Stadium and the newly-crowned FA Trophy winners has been the source of furious debate over recent weeks, after the Heed were denied the chance to compete for promotion to the English Football League (EFL). Despite finishing the the National League play-off places, the club were blocked from competing in them as they could not meet an EFL requirement for aspiring members to have a 10-year lease on their home ground secured.

Gateshead Council is in the process of seeking an outside operator to take over the venue, which Coun Gannon told colleagues is running at an £860,000-a–year deficit, in an ongoing effort to slash its leisure services budget.

Lib Dem leader Ron Beadle moved a motion at Thursday’s council meeting demanding that any contract that hands over control of the stadium to a new operator must “compel them to make the commitments required by the EFL for membership of the Football League, namely security of tenure for ten years”. He told the council chamber that the entire town would “benefit enormously” from having a team in the EFL and that his party wanted to ensure that the club and its fans were not left in this devastating position again.

The Low Fell councillor added: “What this motion would do is enable the club and its supporters to go forward with hope that next season and in subsequent seasons there won’t be a repetition of what has happened in this. It is a hope that we all share, but not only for Gateshead FC and our town but a hope that any of us interested in justice share – that excellence, the sort of excellence demonstrated by Gateshead FC – will be rewarded and not punished.”

Coun Gannon hit back by saying the Lib Dems “clearly haven’t spoken to the football club and certainly haven’t taken any legal advice”. He claimed that inserting a clause into a contract that requires Gateshead FC to remain a tenant of the stadium, would be contrary to the procurement exercise that is already under way and “would open us up to legal action”.

Gateshead Council Leader coun Martin Gannon watching at Gateshead's local election count earlier this month.
Gateshead Council Leader coun Martin Gannon watching at Gateshead's local election count earlier this month. -Credit:Craig Connor/ChronicleLive

The council leader said that it would be “unsustainable” for the local authority itself to continue running the stadium and that decision-makers could not risk the civic centre going bust by agreeing to “ridiculous, unsustainable contracts the likes of which are being proposed”. But he expressed hope that a charity, or other organisation that would be exempt from paying the venue’s hefty business rates, can be found to run it and that they would want to keep the Heed in situ.

Coun Gannon added: “We are confident that will happen. I have taken views from officers and I am told that there are positive discussions, that we have partners who are interested and will secure the future of the football club. I have to be absolutely blunt and honest with members of the council, as with supporters of the football club, as we have been with the football club. What would we do in the, hopefully unlikely, event that we don’t secure an operator?

“Think about it – are you going to urge us to sign a binding 10-year lease with the football club now? And if we don’t secure an operator are you so confident in the finances of this council that you are prepared to sign to an £8.6 million deficit over the next 10 years?”

Lib Dem Dawn Welsh accused that council of a “total lack of political vision” and said that having Gateshead FC as a pre-agreed tenant should actually improve the commercial appeal of the stadium to an operator. Labour councillors voted down the Lib Dem motion and agreed one of their own, which states that the council is "committed to working in partnership with Gateshead FC to satisfy the qualification criteria and will facilitate discussions with any new operator of Gateshead International Stadium and work to that end".