Nottingham Forest urged 'get back round the table' and resolve City Ground lease row

A Nottingham councillor has called on Nottingham Forest to “get back round the table and put the news story to bed” amid an ongoing row over the lease for the City Ground. Nottingham Forest’s stadium currently sits on land owned by Labour-run Nottingham City Council. There are 33 years left on the existing lease.

But club chairman Tom Cartledge, speaking to the BBC and The Athletic, says talks to extend the deal so the club can start stadium redevelopment plans have stalled due to the council’s demands. Reports suggested the authority was seeking to increase rent from £250,000 to around £1m per year.

Mr Cartledge claimed told the Athletic on May 9 nobody from the council had come knocking on the club’s doors and it was becoming frustrated. Cllr Steve Battlemuch (Lab), whose portfolio covers property owned by the council, says the authority wants to “make it clear” it wants progress to be made.

“I would much prefer we were not having this conversation,” he said, also saying he was speaking as a Reds fan and season ticket holder.

“You might call me a hypocrite for doing the interview, but people said yesterday the council is not speaking or the council is not helping Forest. But we want to be absolutely clear that we remain open to negotiations. We are waiting for a counteroffer from the club.”

A deal in 2019 did not progress because the authority decided it did not meet the council’s statutory obligation to achieve best consideration. The council declared effective bankruptcy in November last year amid a multi-million-pound budget deficit, and Government commissioners were appointed in February to oversee critical improvements in how it operates.

Commissioners will now be ensuring the council achieves best consideration and value in all areas of its operations. While negotiations include the consideration of a lease extension, discussions have also taken place concerning the council selling the freehold to the land.

Cllr Battlemuch said commissioners would broadly accept the council has to sell a lease or the freehold at a commercial rent. “I think you have got a situation where we have a massive budget deficit, so the idea, if it ever existed, that the City Council could undervalue something in terms of a sale of the freehold or even undervalue a lease because of the other benefits that having the club here would bring, is just not going to fly when we have commissioners in from the Government looking at every budget line,” he said.

“I certainly completely recognise the value that having the club 500 yards from the city border brings. But if they want to build a new stand, which me as a fan wants them to do because I have got friends who cannot get a ticket, that means the lease has to be renegotiated because it is a bigger area.”

The new lease terms would be for an agreement for 250 years, meaning it could cost the club a total of £250m over this period if the council’s new price was agreed. Nottingham Forest has therefore said it is considering other options, including potentially moving to Toton, where a stadium fit for 50,000 fans could be built.

The land in Toton was originally earmarked for the HS2 rail line. The planned station was subsequently moved to East Midlands Parkway, but the project was ultimately cancelled, leaving the land vacant.

“The club has put that figure out there, clearly they talk about a big figure of £250m, but we are talking about a 250-year lease so we have got to think, it is not that amount of money up front is it?” Cllr Battlemuch said. “There is also an option to buy the freehold and the council in effect washes its hands of owning the land and that is still an option for discussion.”

Asked how much the freehold could cost the club, he added: “It is not that big a number if we are honest. I’m not prepared to get into the exact figures, but given the money the club has spent on players as I know as a fan of 60-odd years, I know it is not beyond the bounds of possibility the club could afford that.”

Cllr Battlemuch argued moving the stadium to a new location, including Toton, would not be a “quick fix”. He said moving the stadium and increasing seating to 50,000 people “could be an aspiration for the club”, but only if it had been in the Premier League for years and was stable there.

“At the moment we are two years back, we have been flirting with relegation those two years and to risk maybe going to a 50,000-seater stadium might be too big a risk,” he said. “I know some people would be attracted to it. But the City Ground is a stone’s throw from the city border.

“The ‘mist rolling in from the Trent’ is a song that people sing, they would not be wanting to be singing ‘the mist rolling in from Toton Sidings'”. He said the council has been talking with the club as recently as February and March, when senior officers met the club.

“Lets get back round the table and put the news story to bed,” he added. The ongoing situation is proving frustrating for long-time Reds fans.

Mark Jeffries, a fan from Ilkeston who has been coming to watch Forest for 30 years, said: “It is home. You have got all the history here. It would be sad to lose it all.

“You look at all these clubs who have moved to all these grounds, they lose all the soul, all the history. You look at places like Man City where they have lost Maine Road and all of a sudden it is all tourist fans.

“It is like a Mexican stand-off really. It is who blinks first. Let's be honest they are not going to move. Even in the [Premier League] they are not going to fill a 50,000-seat ground at Toton.”

Gina Matthews, a fan from Bulwell, added: “It would change the face of football in Nottingham, which is one of the things the city is known for. So many people are proud of the City Ground and to move it out of the city would be horrendous.”

Nottingham Forest Football Club declined the opportunity to comment further.