THIS astonishing photograph reveals the true extent of the shocking collapse of security measures at Brandon Stadium.
Under the ownership of Investin plc (Brandon Estates), who closed the much-loved speedway and stock car venue at the end of the 2016 season in order to pursue a speculative planning application for housing, the site has been allowed to deteriorate to a shadow of its former glory.
And the owners’ inactions have allowed a highly dangerous situation to develop, one which puts local residents, and indeed those who illegally enter the stadium, at significant risk.
The photograph above shows two youths walking, in broad daylight, along the length of the main grandstand roof. This is not an isolated incident, as extensive photographs prove it is one of numerous daily incursions – and the possibility of a serious or tragic accident is obvious.
When the stadium was operational, as it still should be now, as a successful sports venue, full 24-hour on-site security was in place. The venue itself, and the local residents, were protected against unwanted incursions.
Unfortunately the stadium was closed by the owners, who chose to pursue a false narrative that nobody wanted to operate sport there, that it was unviable and there was no ongoing need in the area – and over that time, the situation worsened dramatically.
Following a series of incidents in which the site was occupied by travellers, Rugby Council served the owners with a Warning Notice, which they failed to comply with, and this resulted in a Community Protection Notice being served in September 2017.
Conveniently, rather than comply with this, the owners appealed it, and the case was settled out of court some four months later, with the owners paying Rugby Council’s costs.
The outcome required the owners to put in place a number of measures to improve security, but these have proven to be wholly ineffective.
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue have been called out on five separate occasions to deal with incidents, three of which were very serious fires. The most recent of these, in April 2020, necessitated six appliances and prompted the fire service and Rugby Council to issue warnings of a major incident, requiring residents to remain indoors and close their windows.
Immediately afterwards, Rugby Council declared their intention to commence court proceedings against the owners for breaches of the Community Protection Notice previously served.
This case was to be heard in late July; however, due to the pandemic, the case was adjourned prior to hearing and is now expected to take place later in the autumn, although no date has yet been specified.
Whilst this is understandable, we believe that a continuous physical security presence should be in place at the stadium. We have urged the developers to put this in place, as we are genuinely concerned someone will be seriously injured or worse – and we have respectfully suggested to Rugby Council that if they are not prepared to do that, the Council should put security in place and charge the costs to the developers.
Although Rugby Council do share our concerns, hence the upcoming court case, they say the responsibility for security is with the developers, and they don’t have the powers to do what we suggested.
We feel strongly that making this plea should not be our responsibility, but unfortunately, throughout the entire episode we are the only party to have offered any communication either to the local residents who have endured well over three years of misery, or to the speedway and stock car supporters who saw their sports scandalously evicted.
The owners themselves remain faceless to the public as they pursue a planning application which has been ridiculed, including by an Independent Report specifically commissioned by the Council to assess differences between submissions made by the developers and the facts presented by the Campaign Group.
It is patently clear that there are numerous ways in which anybody can enter the stadium including, for extensive periods in recent months, through wide-open access gates – which are laughably accompanied by warning signs advising of non-existent security measures.
Many of those who enter the stadium do so out of curiosity, and indeed sadness over how one of the country’s best motorsports venues – one which brought prestige and business to the local area – can have been allowed to be so summarily shut down, with no permission in place for a change to its established use.
Others, however, are intent on causing damage and destruction, and doubtless there are those who will believe that the worse the vandalism, the less chance there is of the stadium ever being restored for its established and proper use.
In recent years, the only security provision organised by the owners has been a daily visit to the stadium by Vacant Property Services, based in Halesowen, who would conduct a brief walk-around as part of their schedule, and submit regular reports to the Council.
However, in May 2020, the owners’ contract with VPS was terminated – and, incredibly, no replacement ongoing security provision has been put in place. Consequently, the situation is now even more dangerous.
We recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to Warwickshire Police, who have confirmed that a total of 34 incidents were recorded at the stadium between January 1, 2017 (many more will have gone unrecorded) and June 30, 2020.
These are incidents of trespass, concern for safety, anti-social behaviour, suspicious circumstances etc – and interestingly, nearly 50% of those incidents occurred in the first half of 2020 alone, again underlining the total breakdown in security and that the problem is only getting worse.
The figures are limited to reported incidents taking place within the stadium grounds – they do not include routine police patrols, which have been stepped up this year out of necessity, or call-outs such as occurred when a local retailer was threatened with a knife by travellers who had set up camp on the stadium car park.
This is our first formal public communication since December 2019. We always have to strike a balance between keeping the many thousands of interested people informed, and respecting the confidentiality of the discussions which have continued to take place even through the Covid-19 pandemic.
There have been noteworthy events occurring in the background, some of which we wish could progress somewhat faster, but we cannot allow the owners’ appalling record on security, and apparent contempt for local residents, to go unchallenged.
All of the problems on the site since early 2017 have occurred on the watch of Investin plc (Brandon Estates), who evicted the sports with no firm evidence on which to base their case – thus taking away the enjoyment of many thousands of dedicated and hard-working supporters from a venue where they had enjoyed motorsports for nearly 90 years, and subjecting the local residents to a nightmarish situation for which the developers apparently have no concern.
We genuinely hope there are no more serious incidents whilst the owners continue to prevaricate over their non-compliant planning application – which, amongst others, directly contradicts the existing Local and Neighbourhood Plans on a site in the Green Belt.
But, sadly, we believe that without proper and timely action, and a sincere will from all parties to seek a proper solution to the overall problem, a tragedy could be inevitable.