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Stoneleigh sale: no jeopardy to centre

FOLLOWING THE announcement last week that the Royal Showground at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire has been put up for sale, the owners of the site were quick to scotch rumours that the sale would jeopardise the Kennel Club’s plans for its £1.25 million dog centre.

In OUR DOGS June 1st issue, it was reported that after formal approval was given by Kennel Club members for the establishment of a new charity the Kennel Club Educational Trust, the club announced that it had reached an historic agreement with the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) to provide a permanent venue for dog shows, training sessions, seminars and meetings at the Society’s showground at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire.

The ground-breaking deal was planned to see the Kennel Club assisting with the funding of the refurbishment of an existing building at the showground, largely to specifications required for dog activities, and, in return, RASE will maintain and manage the building whilst giving the Kennel Club, Kennel Club registered societies and the dog owning public, significant long-term access to use the facility.

However, all this appeared in doubt when RASE last week announced its own plans to modernise the whole showground in a redevelopment estimated to cost £100 million. With agreement from county and district councils in place and planning permission duly granted, the redevelopment would have taken place over four or five years, but an unforeseen glitch occurred when it a legal clause in RASE’s original ownership agreement of the site was shown to be breached. The clause prevents any further development of the site and forms part of the original ownership agreement agreement drawn up by Stoneleigh’s trustees who sold the site to the Society in 1963. Extensive legal discussions between the Trustee’s lawyers and RASE’s legal team which have allegedly taken place over the past three months have failed to break the legal deadlock.

When the news broke last week, consternation was caused throughout the dog fancy, with questions being asked as to whether RASE knew about this problem at the time it concluded its deal with the KC.

A spokesperson for the KC played down the problem, saying: ‘The Kennel Club is aware of the report that the Royal Show venue at Stoneleigh has been put up for sale and we are discussing the situation with the RASE. This does not change our attitude to the principle of the project at Stoneleigh but may affect timing and/or location. We are continuing discussions with the RASE and assure all those concerned of our commitment to ensuring that the right package is secured for the world of dogs.’

Meanwhile, RASE itself was quick to defuse any suggestions of problems relating to the KC deal or to any of its other regular site users.

Steph Middleton of RASE told OUR DOGS on Monday of this week: ‘A document explaining the situation to was sent out to all of our tenants and external partners on 9th July explaining our situation. You will notice that the deadline in this document has passed, however discussions are still ongoing and due to that I can confirm that the executive are unable to comment further at this time.’

RASE STATEMENT TO TENANTS AND EXTERNAL PARTNERS:

The Society has had a difficult time but, in this last 18 months, has made considerable progress with some significant developments and initiatives.

The team here has begun a process of revitalising our Society to enable it to clearly focus on our core charitable purposes supported by a developing commercial business. You, our external partners have been a part of that and we are very grateful, thank you. You have supported us throughout. The Society sees you as a vital component of the Society’s plans for the future.
You have been helping us, the Society, developing the concept of a Centre of Rural Excellence at Stoneleigh. This has inevitably taken longer than we would like, but again the discussions we have had with you have been tremendously encouraging and really good progress has been made and we are on the verge of a result.

Key to the development is the taking of a new planning permission widening the current scope of our activity from its current narrow definition to one including all activities linked to our charitable purpose. We have the support of many external bodies, not least the Councils and AWM. That permission is on the table.

This final hurdle in our quest relates to an agreement with the Stoneleigh Trustees, from whom we purchased our land, and the conditions that were agreed in the conveyance, in 1988. We had hoped to conclude a deal with them modernising the existing arrangements allowing us to accept the planning permission, some time ago. We still hope that is possible; but sadly despite great efforts on our part, at the moment we have been unable to agree terms. We have offered a deal. Therefore the Society cannot currently develop the site, and move forward in a way that it wants and needs. A deadline to agree the new arrangements was set and for 12 July and that is fast approaching. As a consequence, the Society now has no choice but to market the Stoneleigh site. Marketing will not inevitably lead to a sale but the RASE Trustees must consider all options available to them for the furtherance of the Society. This move has been an agonising decision for the RASE Trustees but they have concluded there is no other option but to commence marketing.
I am aware that you will all be very concerned about the impact on our discussions with you. I understand that, but I am sure you will understand our difficulty. We will not allow this to put our relationships with you at risk. Please bear with us and if we can answer any questions please ask. We will certainly keep you fully informed as matters develop.

We remain committed to the vision of a Rural Centre for the Countryside and wish to deliver.
It is intended that the Vice Chairman or I will speak to each of you individually just as soon as possible as you will inevitably have questions and issues to raise.

Hugh Oliver-Bellasis Vice Chairman RASE
John Moverley CEO RASE