Sep 12 2013 by Nick Hilton, The Liverpool Post
Standfirst of four lines to go in here with Writer Name included
TRANMERE have made another move towards reducing the club's burden of debt by seeking planning permission to build 50 homes on land behind the Bebington Kop Stand at Prenton Park.
The proposals submitted to Wirral Council require the demolition of existing buildings behind the 6000 seater Kop, which include a social club, function room and an indoor training facility which also houses community and education projects run in association with the club.
The proposed housing estate, when completed, would reduce the size the club's car park by about two thirds.
Tranmere already have plans well advanced for the construction of 90 homes on the nearby Ingleborough Road training ground.
The housing proposal is linked to the redevelopment of the Council owned Woodchurch Leisure Centre as the club's new training complex, with facilities to be shared with the local community.
However, the Ingleborough/Woodchurch projects have been subject to a number of delays.
Although planning permission has been approved in principle, allowing council officers to negotiate on the final terms, hurdles from opponents of the Ingleborough development, had to be cleared.
Campaigners argued that the Ingleborough Road site, formerly the playing fields for the Birkenhead Institute School, are a memorial to 88 former students who perished during the First World War. Those war dead include the celebrated war poet Wilfred Owen.
The project was stalled while the Department for Communities and Local Government decided whether to scrutinise the application.
But in December of last year, Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, decided not to intervene because the department has to be "very selective" about which applications it looks at.
According to council documents the sale of Ingleborough could raise realise £5 million. Some of the money will be sunk into the Woodchurch development with the balance used to pay off club debts.
The sale of housing on the Prenton Park site could raise upwards of £1.5 million for the club.
Tranmere's last published accounts show the club have bank loans worth around £2 million and owe £5 million to controlling shareholder Peter Johnson.
The Wirral businessman's attempts to find a buyer or new investors in the club have been ongoing for more than a decade.
However, the issue of the debt proved an obstacle to would-be purchasers of the League One club, who often have to fall back on player sales to balance losses on day-to-day operations.
Now Rovers are looking to reduce those debts by selling off chunks of the land they own at Ingleborough Road and the nine acre site at Prenton Park.
Such a course of action is, however, liable to make finding a new buyer an even more difficult task in the future.
Johnson, 74, says he is continuing discussions with the Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust, who have ambitious plans to make Tranmere a community owned club.
Johnson entered into negotiations with the Trust two years ago. They beat any potential bidder hands down when it comes to having the best interests of the club at heart. They also have the support of many former players, local politicians and fans.
But in terms of hard cash, they have raised little more than £200,000 to back up innovative plans to run the club.
Meanwhile the Trust have applied to Wirral Council to have Prenton Park and the surrounding land registered as a community asset under the Localism Act of 2011.
The application, should it be granted, might make it more difficult for Tranmere to proceed with a housing development at Prenton Park.