Hanging in the balance: Fresh doubt over Sheffield Sharks' hopes of building new community basketball arena as council press ahead with alternative plan

Sarah Backovic, Sheffield Sharks' managing director.
Sarah Backovic, Sheffield Sharks' managing director.
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Sheffield Sharks' hopes of building a community basketball arena could be left in tatters after council bosses announced it intends to provide sports facilities for schoolchildren at an alternative site.

Sharks were hoping to build a new facility on the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe and open it up to pupils from Oasis Academy Don Valley, where secondary pupils are due to join primary age children currently studying at the site, in September.

How the Park Community Arena would look.

How the Park Community Arena would look.

The council said it faced a race against time to fulfil its legal obligation to provide sports facilities for Oasis Academy Don Valley for the start of the 2019/20 academic year and have announced plans to do so at the English Institute of Sport Sheffield.

A report to Wednesday's cabinet meeting recommends Sheffield Council provides EISS owners Sheffield City Trust with a £700,000 loan to build the extension within 12 months so that it is available for September 2019.

Sharks said the club was due a response from a bank on decision for part of the funding it needs 'by the end of this month' and bosses at the club said Sheffield Council had previously agreed that if that was approved it would provide the rest as a 'commercial loan'.

But the officer's report said Sharks and PCA Ltd, who would operate the new arena, were given a deadline to secure funding 'and that had passed many months ago' - something the club dispute.

Sheffield Sharks currently play at the English Institute for Sport Sheffield.

Sheffield Sharks currently play at the English Institute for Sport Sheffield.

Sarah Backovic, managing director, said: "My issue is that we were assured by the council that it's a plan B and that, in essence, would be sensible but there's no mention it's a back-up plan in the report.

"My main issue is the manner with which we have been portrayed in the report. We have only ever asked for £1.4 million as a gap fund and it's a loan that's repayable at a substantial interest rate."

Sharks have been fighting for the stadium, which would be known as the Park Community Arena (PCA), since the OLP plans were first announced on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium.

They have played across the city including at Sheffield Arena and their current 'base' at the English Institute of Sport.

Ms Backovic said: "This arena would be there to provide a community venue. In the broader context, it would provide a facility for the school, a sports facility and community facilities for a largely black and minority ethnic community who can't afford to go elsewhere."

The report to councillors said other options considered included 'guaranteed use' for Oasis pupils at the PCA, the council building a new stand-alone sports hall to meet the school's requirements, building an indoor sports hall as part of the stadium proposals for the OLP, extend the English Institute of Sport or the council building a new indoor arena 'to accommodate the PCA operations'.

It said: "There is a strong financial, social and sporting case for opting for the EISS extension," and added: "The risk adjusted cost to the council of providing the necessary school sports facility is £0.7m with the EISS option, compared to £1.7m for council build option and £2m for the PCA option."

The report added: "Further, the PCA option has not been recommended given that to date the proposal does not have a confirmed funding solution in place and cabinet agreed last year that this option be given a deadline to secure funding and that passed many months ago.

"There is also no agreed legal solution that would secure the academy access to the sports facility under this option."

Ms Backovic said she was 'a little bit astonished' at some parts of the report and disputed that they had ever been given a deadline to secure funding from the bank but the council said a deadline of October 2017 was set during a cabinet meeting last year.

She added: "It's taken an awful long time to get to this stage with the bank and the council told us that if we pass their due diligence test and they accept us, the council will grant us a loan too.

"I have nothing from the council that says: 'If by June 1, for example, you have not been successful in securing funds then this is what will happen'. I think the report lacks accuracy in parts."

The report also said that the EISS option 'had far more certainty of delivery within he expected timescales and financial envelope as it will not be reliant on an extensive external funding process or securing significant new sources of income'.

Further details on the financial implications to the council were restricted from public viewing 'as they related to the financial or business affairs of a person'.

Richard Caborn, project for the OLP, said he understood council's proposals were only a precautionary measure to ensure that it fulfils its legal obligations to the school.

Eugene Walker, director of finance at Sheffield Council, said: "Based on the information we have to date, officers have recommended that EISS should be chosen as the location to meet the needs of the Oasis Academy and to offer opportunities for community use. The council’s cabinet will make a decision at its meeting on July 18."