The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has rejected Everton claims that the city council has stalled its latest stadium project and insisted an authority facing severe spending cuts cannot finance a scheme costing over £300m.
Robert Elstone, the Everton chief executive, told the club’s AGM on Monday that plans to relocate from Goodison Park to Walton Hall Park had made little progress because of fundamental issues with the council, chiefly over accessing the land and funding. Everton have proposed a wider regeneration scheme for north Liverpool, requiring funding from the council which, Elstone claimed, would make an annual return on its investment.
That prompted an immediate response from Anderson on Twitter and the mayor issued a more comprehensive rebuttal of Everton’s accusations on Tuesday. In a statement, he said: “I was disappointed that people were left with the impression that the council and other partners were not fully in support or part of a true partnership. I don’t recognise that view.
“Many people would love to see a new stadium, new housing, a better park and new community facilities at Walton Hall Park. Some would prefer the park to remain the way it currently is. All of which are things to consider but the facts are that: delivering what Everton FC refer to as ‘The Vision’ requires in excess of £300m which Everton cannot yet show that they – or anyone else – have available. There is no regeneration scheme in place. There is no developer in place. There is no planning application.”
Anderson claimed the council would support Everton’s project as it has Liverpool’s expansion of Anfield once those four significant factors were in place. But he stressed a council that must save £156m in the current three-year budget, following cuts of £173m in the previous budget – a cut of approximately 58% in real terms since 2010/11 – cannot help fund a new stadium for a Premier League club.
He added: “Some people seem to be forgetting that it is not the job of the council to finance and deliver a major regeneration scheme of the type proposed, including a potential new stadium for Everton Football Club.
“Nobody should be in any doubt about the horrendous financial situation that the council is facing. Let me reiterate, we would welcome a regeneration scheme to consider but the fact is, at the moment, there isn’t one. That is why there is no real progress to report.
“As a city we have helped Everton with Finch Farm and took the controversial decision to support a regeneration project with a stadium on Walton Hall Park. As mayor I am totally committed to helping, within reason, this project if it meets the wider regeneration needs of the area or indeed any other solution the club may propose. I await sight of those plans.”
Elstone’s comments also attracted criticism from campaigners opposed to Everton’s plans for Walton Hall Park, with new homes and retail space included in the outline proposal. Chrisie Byrne, a spokesperson for Friends of Walton Hall Park, said: “Shame on the club for putting mayor Anderson in the position he is in because Liverpool is facing its worst cuts ever, vital services have been forgotten or cut or lost. People are suffering everywhere and he expects the mayor to fund millions for a new toy for Everton FC. The fans have been fantastic – what we have proposed for is for the club to stay at Goodison Park and keep their history and for us to keep our history, which is Walton Hall Park.”
Byrne accused Everton of using the council as a scapegoat for the lack of progress on Walton Hall Park. Should the scheme fall through, it will be the club’s third failed stadium project following the collapse of the Kings Dock scheme in 2003 and “Destination Kirkby” in 2009.
She added: “We all feel that they are giving up but that they need to blame somebody. The club is not taking responsibility for their failure, that’s their get-out clause. For them this is a game, for us it isn’t. It’s not only our park, it’s our lives that will be affected.”