TRANMERE Rovers are hoping for a result tonight at a meeting of Wirral Council Planning Committee that could prove pivotal in shaping the club's long-term future.
Councillors are due to decide on Tranmere's dual application for permission to build 90 homes on the Ingleborough Road training ground and to redevelop the Woodchurch Leisure Centre into a new training complex, incorporating facilities to be shared with the local community.
The two projects are inextricably linked: neither can go ahead without the other. Council officials recommend approval but the final say rests with the elected politicians.
The plans were first put before the council in 2011, withdrawn in February of this year and resubmitted during the summer.
The Ingleborough Road housing development has the support of residents' associations in the area but is opposed by local historical groups led by the Wilfred Owen Story "Heroes Not Houses" campaign. They claim the six acre site close to Prenton Park, formerly the school playing fields for Birkenhead Institute, is a war memorial to the 88 pupils at the school who fell during the First World War and should be kept as open space.
A go-ahead for the projects offers more than just a state-of-the-art training base for Tranmere's professional and youth and academy teams. A green light would also present the club with an opportunity to significantly reduce long-standing debts of around £5 million to chairman and controlling shareholder Peter Johnson.
The difference between the windfall from the sale of Ingleborough and the cost of the Woodchurch redevelopment has been estimated at between £2 million and £3 million, depending on factors such as grant funding.
Enough certainly to take Johnson further down the road towards the objective of retiring from active control of the club he bought out of administration in 1987.
The 72-year-old Birkenhead born businessman, currently living as a tax exile in Switzerland, last week collected £30 million from the sale of 60 million shares in the Park Group of companies. Johnson's holding in Park, which he founded himself, is now down to just under 30%.
He has been looking to sell a 60% stake in Tranmere over the past decade and entered negotiations with the Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust during the summer of 2011. The Trust remain committed to the project of buying the shares and taking the club into community ownership but have raised less than £200,000 from fans.
The reduction of the debt would certainly work in favour of the Trust's ambitions. They backed the twin projects from the start.
Trust chairman Ben Harrison insisted this week that planning approval would deliver a number of benefits to the community and “leave a lasting legacy for generations of young people”.
Harrison, said: “The choice is between retaining a privately-owned, inaccessible field which is not fit for purpose and serves nobody, or giving approval to a transformational scheme which would benefit thousands of people for years to come by creating jobs and providing new housing and top-rate community sports facilities.”