Plymouth Argyle: James Brent – Licensed To… Do As He Wishes

Plymouth Argyle: James Brent – Licensed To… Do As He Wishes

By on Feb 5, 2014 in Latest | 23 comments

Whatever Plymouth Argyle chairman and owner James Brent is, and opinions vary passionately among Pilgrims fans on that, he is no “football man.” Nor is he a “philanthropist,” “benefactor” or “particularly nice.” Brent regularly admits to mistakes in his running of the League Two club. So regularly that it was a surprise that BBC Radio Devon’s Gordon Sparks was surprised when Brent told him last month that “every day of the week I make a huge number of errors.” Just as well then that last July Brent appointed Yeovil Town ex-chief executive and, ulp, Wishbone Ash fan Martyn Starnes.

Financially, though, Plymouth ought to be in knowledgeable hands with Brent the businessman, who became a merchant banker (no jokes) straight from school, and became “global head of real estate and lodging” at financial services multi-national Citigroup in 2000. Brent’s desire “to do something entrepreneurial” manifested itself in 2008 in his own business, Akkeron Group, which, he told the Financial News website in June 2011, he formed to “establish three real estate-anchored operating businesses” covering “hotels in the British Isles; urban regeneration in the south and southwest UK; and large-scale agriculture in emerging markets.”

In 2009, he became Plymouth City Development Company chairman, a short-lived stewardship thanks, partly, to the new Coalition government’s distaste for such “quangos” – its closure was announced in August 2010. Brent’s role, however, established his credentials as a “local” entrepreneur, as individual blame went to chief executive Paul Carroll, who Brent generously claimed was “a disappointment.” And he would be a “Mr Plymouth” in the making if he had a genial nature. Unfortunately, he hasn’t, despite a determinedly pleasant media persona. And the supporter-unity which did so much to help the club survive has diminished considerably because of his ruthless treatment of opposition viewpoints, not least those who argue that Brent only wants Argyle as a “real estate-anchor.”

Brent and Akkeron have driven plans through Plymouth City Council for “a £57m commercial development centred on the adjoining privately-owned Higher Home Park,” as “envisaged” in a 2011 agreement by which the council “acquired the freehold of Home Park… and… leased the Stadium” to Argyle. From these grand designs, Argyle will get a 17,700-capacity stadium, after a new grandstand is built to replace the decaying ‘Mayflower’ stand at Home Park. A 45,000-capacity stadium was planned as part of England’s 2018 World Cup bid. But that proved ruinously ambitious. And Plymouth’s descent into administration soon followed. Brent’s plans are not ruinously ambitious. But many fans believe they are not ambitious at all for Argyle.

To the outsider, there was little to choose between Brent’s plans, replete with revenue-generating opportunities for the club and Akkeron, and an alternative proposal from the Argyle Fans’ Trust, which sought greater scope for increasing Home Park’s capacity both now and in the Championship future publicly targeted by all sides. Brent’s plans would increase Home Park’s capacity from its current 16,388 to 17,611, via a 4,800-seat grandstand, with scope to increase capacity to 20,200. The Trust envisaged the grandstand having approximately 7,000 seats at an additional cost to the project of £800,000. Brent’s view was ostensibly pragmatic but hugely patronising. He thanked the Trust as “a group of volunteers who, to my knowledge have no expertise of building similar structures,” even though the Akkeron Group, to everyone else’s knowledge, had no such expertise either. And he claimed that “detailed (safety) regulations” would make the costs “materially greater than the Trust have assumed,” which shamefully implied that the Trust ignored the issue. The Herald quoted figures of “£1,200 per additional seat…not the £364k suggested by the Trust.”

“On current averages, Brent said, “60% of Home Park’s proposed capacity is empty…we do not need additional seats now or in the short-term.” He claimed extra seating could be installed “swiftly and economically” when necessary. And concluded: “Building seats that we can fill regularly makes good economic sense for the club. Building seats that remain empty makes no sense at all.” Or, more colourfully, “putting money into empty seats is voodoo.” He meant “voodoo economics.” Presumably. The Trust believed their proposals’ extra costs would be recouped by the occasional “big” game – a home FA Cup or League Cup tie against a Premier League giant, or even a “promotion six-pointer” at home to major rivals Exeter City.

Brent’s proposals are dependent to an unusual extent on Plymothians’ urge to ice-skate and/or watch ice hockey. The Trust believed the 1,500-seater ice rink limited scope to extend the stadium and proposed that it be built on Cottage Field – adjacent land “allocated for development” by the council – creating space between stadium and rink. Brent countered: “We do not own Cottage Field. Even if I wanted to build on it, I could not, and (the council) would not sell it to me for development.” This raised concerns over Brent’s priorities. He countered these by claiming he holds a greater shareholding in Argyle than Akkeron. But this was disingenuous to the point of misleading. The only other listed Akkeron Group LLP director is Nicola…Brent. And if Brent couldn’t be upfront about such basics, it was little wonder fans were sceptical.

Equally disingenuous was the presentation of the new grandstand as a £10m “gift” to Argyle because costs will be covered by revenue from the Akkeron-owned retail units in the stand. But such revenue which will continue to be Akkeron’s once those costs are covered. As one Brent critic claimed: “(the ground) has had every one of its assets stripped…a number of retail units located in the stand are leased to the Akkeron group (prop: J Brent esq)…none of this revenue goes to the football club.” And Brent’s revenue forecasts went unchallenged. “Argyle chairman forecasts cash bonanza from new grandstand” screamed a local Herald newspaper headline. The story said a “forecasted £1m per year…would pay the players’ wages.” How that money would be made was not detailed. As one Herald reader commented: “The revenues projected are pie-in-the-sky.”

The Herald has backed Brent’s plans to the hilt, sometimes, it has seemed, at the expense of journalistic integrity. Business Editor William Telford produced articles which read as pure Brent/Akkeron PR, rather than proper analysis. Barely a summer week went by without Brent airing his views in print. And un-named Akkeron spokespeople frequently misrepresented opponents. One claimed that the Trust was “not opposed to the development… Andrew Symons, chair of the Trust, has confirmed that.” This was demonstrably untrue. The same statement accused “the acting leadership” of the “Friends of Central Park” group of issuing “misleading and provocative statements after we enjoyed constructive meetings with their predecessors.” As if Akkeron’s critics weren’t the ‘real’ leadership and as if their predecessors supported the development. “Misleading and provocative” indeed.

The Herald used founder Trust board member Lee Jameson to punt the pro-Brent line. “Some may find the argument boring,” Jameson wrote, “but… if it was not for James Brent we would most likely be in the Southern League or even lower.” Jameson was right. The argument was boring. But the Herald’s inability to find anyone more contemporary from the Trust spoke volumes. Plymouth Argyle Supporters Board (PASB) spokesman, Edward Shillibeer, allowed the paper to claim that “New Grandstand plan gets backing from Argyle supporters” by “welcoming the decision to replace the existing grandstand” although even he had to acknowledge that “many fans would have liked a larger stand.”  But the PASB remains a Brent-approved and hand-picked body. No PASB spokesperson would be permitted to say otherwise.

The council’s planning committee approved the plans a week after Shillibeer’s rallying cry. And the full Cabinet unanimously approved the proposals on September 3rd. Brent’s speech to cabinet was reportedly lacklustre to the point of complacent, with one lawyer wondering aloud how much Brent had “paid” for council approval – a comment which predictably brought legal threats. The Trust’s focus soon switched to Home Park’s future ownership. Brent/Akkeron obtained an option, exercisable every five years, to buy the stadium for 12 times the annual rent. The Trust noted that when Argyle bought the stadium from the council in 2006, “it was claimed that private ownership would provide an asset against which loans could be secured to take the club forward.” It didn’t. And the Trust were concerned when Brent “hinted he was considering taking up the option.” This, they claimed, would lead to “significant concern about Home Park’s long-term future should he sell the stadium/club to a new owner about whom we may know very little.”

Last month, the Trust surveyed fans on the issue, revealing significant support for keeping the stadium “in public ownership through the council”, for removing the “buyback” option and for Trust plans to “explore registering Home Park as an “asset of community value,” as envisaged by the Localism Act 2011, giving communities extra time to bid for assets proposed for sale. A number of football grounds have been so registered, most famously Old Trafford. Manchester United were not over-pleased and initially requested a review of the decision. One suspects that despite calling the club a “community asset”, Brent would take a similar view. Undermining all efforts to properly assess the development is the lack of clarity on Argyle’s current finances. Brent says he is funding losses to fund a playing budget which, he told the Sunday Telegraph in September, “avoids the nightmare of a relegation dogfight and gives us the prospect of getting promoted.” The extent of those losses is not clear, though.

Figures presented to the PASB last year put Argyle’s liabilities at £6.4m, with £3.6m “legacy debt” from the administration, including the repayment of staff wages deferred when the club was being “run” by Ridsdale, who didn’t entirely lead by example in the remuneration deferment department. Brent said last May that “a club depending on a benefactor to pay wages each year will eventually go wrong. You can’t put the future of a community asset at risk.” But Brent and/or Akkeron have had to cover losses. Whether they have done so via loans, and on what repayment terms if so, needs clarification.  James Brent is at Argyle primarily in self-interest, which his responsible owner persona is designed to protect. But that in itself does not condemn him. What does, as a person as much as anything else, is his attitude to criticism and critics. Brent’s litigious reputation preceded him. And tales abound of Brent supporters waging smear campaigns against Argyle opponents, especially from the Trust.

The comments section of my last Argyle article descended into a grisly list of “he said, she said” accusations. The Herald comments section has contained tales of club critics being ignored or vilified, even for constructively highlighting basic errors in club administration. Brent can claim to make errors every day. But woe betide those who confirm it. Before then, I would not have filed Brent in the ‘superego’ column of football club owners, to which Hull’s Assem Allam could claim naming rights and which appears to be lengthening every time a club comes up for grabs. Now, I’m not so sure. I wrote in April 2013 that “at the risk of damning with faint praise, Brent is certainly one of football’s more responsible owners.” An Exeter City-supporting Brent critic disagreed, suggesting “any so-called ‘responsible behaviour’ is a symptom of Brent’s reluctance to fund the playing side any more than he has to.”

That was, sort of, what I meant. But this critic’s overview of Brent’s regime (“his sole interest was in acquiring the development land attached to the ground,” “there is no evidence that he has put a red cent into the club beyond…loans…or that the club will benefit financially in any serious way from the shiny new stand”) has turned out to be a fairer assessment than any praise I may have offered, however faint. As things currently stand, Argyle’s success is in Brent’s interests, its failure is not. But this won’t be the case forever, or for very long. And his development plans have produced a mediocre outcome for the club. Uncertain times lie ahead.

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    23 Comments

  1. It’s refreshing to see someone put all this down in print, other than the bunch of “freaks and weirdos” that reside on Argyle Talk Democratic.

    Probably too late to make a difference now though as “Brent’s Herald” aren’t interested in rocking the boat by showing the fans of Argyle and the residents of Plymouth just exactly what is going on at Home Park, and the various other sites around Plymouth Mr Brent has been handed on a silver platter for an outlay of one English pound sterling.

    Luckily for Mr Brent he recognised straight away the people who would fulfil the scooby doo role as meddling kids and dash his plans. He’s bought the largest Argyle online forum, pasoti, and the former Argyle Fans Trust leader Chris Webb to ensure that the only news to emanate from Home Park is sugar coated and extremely vague in actual detail.

    Still his lip quivers at the mere thought of Argyle losing and is willing to meet ordinary fans to discuss any concerns in various stage managed quality and a sessions that make WWE wrestling look like Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud at their finest.

    These events presided over by his “socialist who abhors fat cat pensions but is happy to call James a good friend despite his stripping Argyle of everything to feather his pension nest” comrade Chris Webb, are again as open and transparent as Mr Brent’s other henchman, Ian Newell’s Pasoti, where dissent is “tidied up” and dissenters are frequently unable to access the site once their probing questions are aired.

    The Plymouth Argyle Supporters Board contains handpicked yes men who are more interested in gaining a seat in the director’s box next to James than actually representing the supporters. The filling in the pre match buffet sandwiches being the most important subject they are able to enquire about. A shame really when the PASB contains a private detective, even if he makes Inspector Clouseau look like a Mastermind champion.

    Most fans are oblivious to the decidedly strange goings on at Home Park, in part due to being fed thoroughly sanitised PR releases and buttered up with the odd free coach from the clubs main sponsor, who up until his loan company’s recent winding up order was far more generous than the club’s owner.

    This winding up order may have caused a few alarm bells with fans worried about a much reduced budget without the reported several hundred thousand pounds FES had bankrolled the club with since Brent’s takeover, but a statement by FES’s chief Nik Barron on Pasoti assured any concerned fans that the upcoming winding up petition was frivolous and just a misunderstanding which would amount to nothing. Unfortunately this statement proved as accurate as the PASB’s private detective and completely the opposite happened.

    A quick tidy up of the Pasoti thread discussing the loss of the sponsorship money soon allayed any concerns fans might have about it though so still no panic in the ranks.

    Where does this all leave Argyle at the moment? Who knows? Not a hint of any building work still at Home Park, a similar story at Oldway Mansions in Torbay and the various other Brent projects around Plymouth.

    Questions go unanswered, rather reminiscent of the former board which led the club into a crippling administration, only these unanswered questions are nothing to worry about because the people who saved the club 3 years ago say so whilst wiping marie rose sauce from the side of their mouths in the corporate lounge.

    Never again they cried as they single-handedly dragged the club up from its knees to the lofty heights it now occupies, mid-table in Division 4 with debts north of £5 million and loans of unknown amounts to the owner, never again will this great club be shrouded in secrecy and have an owner more interested in real estate, unless of course we can hitch a ride to Accrington with him.

    pete Gordon

    February 5, 2014

  2. A very insightful and accurate article. Well done – if only the media researched as well and reported with as much integrity. The game that James Brent has played has been pretty clever – getting certain people on side to make sure that dissenters are ‘shushed’, keeping the PR machine churning out stuff that does not reflect reality and keeping Plymouth City Council so far in his pocket they will never crawl out. Brent has been influenced by some strange people perhaps. So much for supporter engagement – he has made sure that the Argyle Fans’ Trust has been marginalised. Shocking for someone who took over the club with the clarion cry of supporter engagement and transparency. If his pension plan has had the c. £1m uplift reported in recent comment – I hope that he has the most wonderful time enjoying his big pile of money. And that he can sleep at night

    Linda Jenking

    February 5, 2014

  3. Also worth asking questions about the relationship between Mr Brent and Plymouth City Council’s leader, Tudor Evans, a slightly odd couple, the leader of Plymouth’s Labour Party and the multi millionaire ex Etonian. The two were first linked in April 2008 when, on the same day tgey joined the Board of Directors of the failed Plymouth City Development Company.

    The accounts for the year ended 31st December 2012 of Natatomisam Ltd, Mr & Mrs Brent’s holding company for all their
    business interests, were submitted some 5 months late and published by Companies House this week. They show that the prime site of Plymouth Pavilions, now owned by Natatomisam subsidiary Five Directions Ltd. has been valued at £4.050.000. This site was sold by Plymouth City Council to Five Directions for the princely sum of £1. Further investigation also reveals that Plymouth City Council has agreed to pay Five Directions grants amounting to £2 million to cover operating costs of the Pavilions. The twist of the knife comes in a note to the accounts of Five Directions Ltd showing that £900.000 worth of shares of Five Directions Ltd has been transferred to James Brent’s personal pension fund.

    The Herald ran the story of Plymouth City Council waiving in excess of £250,000 of Business Rates for Mr Brent, another story which ‘broke’ across the Argyle messageboards as The Herald seems unwilling or unable to publish details of the murky relationship betwee.ln Mr Brent’s companies and Mr Evan’s Council.

    One further project in this relationship. Mr Brent has been given ‘preferred bidder’ status in the redevelopment of Plymouth City Council’s Civic Centre. Did anybody actually see the tender documents? Does anybody know the details of the competitive bids? Does anybody know the reason that Mr Brent’s company was awarded the status? Maybe they do, but they sure as hell haven’t made those details available to the Plymouth Public.

    Openess and transparency were promised by Mr Brent when he appeared in Plymouth. Mr Brent, your relationship with Mr Evans is as clear as mud.

    Damon Lenszner

    February 6, 2014

  4. An excellent and accurate article.

    The truth always emerges eventually but those who support the asset stripping and the boxing in of the club for generations,in return for reward, or simply ‘being someone’ at Home Park, will for ever be remembered as self promoting,parochial and devious sell-outs.

    PAFC historically,is at least on a par potential / attendance wise with clubs like Hull, Swansea, Cardiff, Brighton, Reading etc., all of whom enjoyed ‘lift-off’ support wise, from forward thinking and inspiring stadia. Swansea’s council showed ambition and support for its football club, Plymouth’s is supporting a property developer.

    Very sad times

    Andrew Brooks

    February 6, 2014

  5. At last an article to show what’s really going on at Stasi HQ Home Park.

    alannotivvy

    February 6, 2014

  6. Its very refreshing to read a non bias article on whats going on behinds the scenes at my dear club. James Brent’s greedy property deal that is design purely to make him richer is going to handicap the club for decades long after he leaves,

    wake up those who refuse to see what is actually happening and choose to follow sheep who even now are trying to gloss over this article and anything non supportive of brent.
    TIME TO STAND UP AND BE FANS OF THE CLUB NOT CHEERLEADERS FOR A PROPERTY.

    mehhh

    February 6, 2014

  7. Excellent read. As a fan of Tranmere Rovers we are at a point where the current chairman is selling up and the local fans trust is trying to raise capital to buy the club. Though there are other parties interested hopefully we don’t end up in the same situation as at Plymouth.

    Tony Lowe

    February 7, 2014

  8. Excellent piece superbly written and you can see the Politburo over on Pasoti having Kittens due to their inability to sanitize it…….
    Eat your heart out Jameson and Newell….

    Paul Thomas

    February 7, 2014

  9. Some of the comments listed belongto a different era. James Brent has moved heaven and earth to move this club forward but the small minided freaks on ATD continue to delight at the smallest of bad news
    Pasoti is the official forum of the club and will always remain so.

    Ian Newell

    February 7, 2014

  10. Has no one noticed that there is a football match away at Northampton on Saturday?

    And you know how much I Argyle like playing away at Northampton

    El Presidente

    February 7, 2014

  11. Very good article and must be causing Mr Brent and his Prawn Sandwich Brigade Nool, Webb, Hooper and Jameson to be in search of their passports and an immediate evacuation.
    Times are a changing at PAFC and this Wrecking Crew should be removed soonest

    Helen Richards

    February 7, 2014

  12. What could have been an interesting and informed insight into James Brent’s ownership of Argyle is ultimately disappointing as it over relies on half truths and misplaced conjecture.

    Those in the development industry are not in the least surprised by the delays in commencement of the Higher Home Park (HHP) development. The proposed £57m scheme is complex and challenging to not only construct but also to fund and secure tenants in what remains a difficult commercial economic climate in parts of the south west and in Plymouth in particular. James Brent has highlighted that the scheme’s delivery i9s contingent ‘third party dependencies’ which remain outside of his direct control.

    In addition, there remain a number of planning issues (pre-commencement planning conditions)to resolve before work can legally commence. The extent of asbestos in the Grandstand and its method of removal has yet to be fully identified. Most importantly, of all the new lease that underpins the HHP development (as set out in the Council’s Cabinet’s report in September last year) remains unsigned as far as anyone knows.

    It is evitable that the announced delays will flame fears of a non-commencement. Argyle fans over many years have seen hopes and aspirations raised that they will finally have a stadium (or a community asset indeed) that befits the size and importance of a city the size of Plymouth, only for those hopes to be dashed by another scheme that only gathers dust in the architects drawer.

    This time the stakes are different. The decision makers of the City have invested heavily that James Brent will be almost the sole commercial economic driver in the City. Much, some say too much, is dependent on his ability to deliver. indeed, ‘delivery’ should be the most important word and litmus test for James Brent in Plymouth in 2014.

    It is too early to say, with absolute certainty in these still uncertain times, whether James Brent and his Akkeron Group will deliver in full what has been promoted, promised and been given permission in the City. However, for Argyle supporters the close season will be one not waiting for the fixture list to come out but one where the signs of bulldozers and portacabins at Home Park will be just as, if not more, important. The close season is the proper time to start making a judgement and then, and only then, will ‘delivery’ have a proper meaning. We’ll see.

    Graham Clark

    February 7, 2014

  13. a great article

    neal harris

    February 7, 2014

  14. Can anyone lend me a tenner?

    Rikkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

    February 7, 2014

  15. ‘Pasoti will ALWAYS be the official forum of PAFC’ what a bizarre statement, how on earth do you know?
    I might buy the club next week and boot it right into touch.

    Spirit of foot

    February 8, 2014

  16. ‘Pasoti will always be the official forum’ what a bizarre statement, how on earth do you know?
    I might buy the club tomorrow and boot it right into touch.

    Spirit of foot

    February 8, 2014

  17. I still have half a pint left if anyone wants to share it with me ;-)

    Michael Rewell

    February 8, 2014

  18. Trust in Stapes/Gardner/Todd/Ridsdale/Brent….

    The club is rotten to the core. There is an assortment of “fans” in the background, enjoying free directors box perks, who will back to the hilt any owner/director who “involves” them, and gladly start smear campaigns against those who level criticism – however founded – at their man. One such fan was revealed to have kept a dossier going back over a decade, consisting of hundreds of “screen grabs” of “dissident fans’” internet activity: it’s that mental at PAFC. Then, when a club owner inevitably reveals themselves to be mathematically incompetent or plainly not having the club’s interests at heart, said “fans” respond along the lines of “I was duped. But I tried my best and gave my input because I love the club. Now it’s time to trust in the newest owner who is also letting me sit in the director’s box”.

    The rotten thing about this club is that certain fans care more about their free directors’ box tickets than the wellbeing of the club itself, totally blinded by their milk-monitor sashes and other trinkets and other trinkets bestowed by those above. Make no qualms about it, these fans are complicit in the decline of PAFC. Such fans have set private investigators on other fans who question their man in power. Threats have been made, both legal and physical. Even “white feathers” sent to dying fans with different views. Yes, really. Some fans have been outed as taking part in such behaviour, yet the club – far from distancing himself from them – embraces them in the director’s box. I guess they’re useful.

    Hopefully one day the club will be owned and run by people with its best interests at heart, with no prejudicial self-interest coming to the fore. But I doubt this will happen.

    BTW, I hope the twohundredpercent lawyer is at hand to deal with the inevitable threats from litigious PAFC fans.

    Aggrieved Green

    February 8, 2014

  19. Q.E. bleedin’ D – judging by the comments.

    Regardless of whether Plymouth fans love/hate/distrust Brent, they can only hope he gets what he wants out of his property deal and then leaves their football club on an even keel (i.e. no debts and all Brent ‘loans’ extinguished)

    What happens after that, nobody knows…

    SW19 Womble

    February 9, 2014

  20. This article is a pile of “s**t” stirring rubbish which does not recognise what might have happened to Argyle had JB ( a good man in my opinion) not stepped in to the breach.

    Ian Adams

    February 11, 2014

  21. I won’t even attempt to ask you to delete the lies but could you at least remove an E mail said to be sent by me?

    Ian

    Ian Newell (the real one)

    February 12, 2014

  22. It’s great to see someone as balanced and knowledgeable as Graham Clark leaving a comment on here as he is about the one person respected by both the elite, friends of James Brent camp and other Argyle supporters who see flaws in Mr Brent’s plans.

    Graham is able to cut through the waffle spouted by both factions in a way that even the owner of the largest Argyle fans forum and most ardent James Brent supporter, is able to understand, well sometimes.

    There is a growing divide amongst the Argyle supporters who use the online forums, possibly such a small number that the division is hardly noticed but nonetheless a divide that has turned decidedly nasty on occasions, which really needs to be addressed properly.

    On the one side we have the so-called “superfans” who did indeed stand up and be counted whilst the club was heading for the rocks 3 short years ago and who helped usher in James Brent as new owner, and a growing number of other fans who are seeing things which are setting off alarm bells at Home Park and want to investigate further before declaring their undying love for Mr Brent, something that was advocated by the “superfans” under the previous regime which all but ruined the club but these self same people are now imploring others just to believe that James Brent has the best interests of the club at heart because Che Guevara from Crawley, the Sussex Shakespeare, has seen his eyes on a TV screen and knows a good ‘un when he sees one.

    They’ve seen his lip quiver at a goal at Oxford and have looked him in the eye and decided that he’s the second coming, and not just out to make a quick buck at Argyle’s expense. Not in it for the property development they argue, why would he travel to Mansfield if he didn’t love the greens?

    Ok well let’s look at reasons why some fans might not be quite as enamored with James Brent as the select few “REAL MATES” who he treats to the corporate experience on a regular basis along with their families.

    Actual details of the Higher Home Park development are still pretty sketchy despite planning permission being granted months ago. Figures like “an additional £1-2 million of revenue will be generated by the new “grandstand” are bandied about without ever really being expanded on.

    The issue of a supporters bar which was originally dismissed by Mr Brent and his team and only now that fans are beginning to realise that only the profits from the prawn sandwiches and vol au vonts on offer in the corporate lounge will make up this huge increase in income and are scratching their heads desperately trying to envisage how on earth this will lead to such a upturn in business at Home Park, has the sweetener of a supporters bar been looked at by the club and vague references to it are bounced around to quell the angry natives.

    The once alluded to profits from all but one or two retail units going to the club to the current suggestion that by selling off the retail units, Mr Brent is able to “gift” the new grandstand to the club are more examples of how many “misunderstandings” there have been by thick Janners who don’t understand how business actually works. Attempts at clearing up any confusion have only further muddied the waters as plans seem to change on a weekly basis and it is only by analysing the latest statements and looking at plans already drawn up that it becomes evident that all is not as it once seemed.

    I don’t think anyone begrudges Mr Brent the opportunity to make himself a few bob out of the HHP development but it appears to the naked eye that it is the club getting the shitty end of the stick compared to everything else being planned. The grandstand is not the magnificent centre piece of the development but rather an afterthought squeezed in wherever it will fit because of the surrounding ice-rink, cinema, dentists et al.

    The capacity of the grandstand is also unpopular. It will limit Argyle to under 17,000 with segregation, hardly showing the ambition many would like to see and many feel is being shown by Mr Brent with his other projects around the city. There are vague references to adding to the existing Lyndhurst stand if the dream is realised and Argyle make it to the promised land of the Premier League, yet closer scrutiny of this proposal seems to suggest that this would not be possible once the HHP access road is in place and that it would only be possible if a good number of the additional seats had restricted views. Once we reach the Premier League and receive all the TV money that goes along with it, there would be money to burn claim experts like the Club President Chris Webb who used to be the most vocal and biggest advocate of not leaving any stone unturned when it came to ensuring Argyle owners were scrutinised and acting in the best interests of the club. Most vocal until he was rewarded with the title of club president that is.

    In fact it is just this kind of about turn being carried out by Messers Webb, De Lar, Newell and Peter Jones that is most galling to some. As the leader of the AFT Chris Webb was prepared to chain himself to the club gates to save the club from the evil property developing former board yet these days is happy to sit shoulder to shoulder with Mr Brent and forget about “fat cat pensions” he preaches with vigour as a Union rep, and is more likely to be the enthusiastic judge of an Argyle players wives beauty contest than ask Mr Brent about the £900,000 recently transferred to his pension fund out of the £4 million Akkeron themselves value the recently acquired Plymouth Pavilions site from the city council, for the princely sum of £1 with the sweetener of £2 million to help with the running costs!

    This special relationship between James Brent and Plymouth City Council, and it is a special relationship to have been handed so many prime development contracts from the public sector in such a short space of time and with planning permission seemingly not an issue, has angered many Plymouth residents, especially when details like the Pavillions site for £1 now valued at more than £4 million before you know it, and the fact that PCC have also given Mr Brent £2 million more to help with running costs. If £6 million pound developments were available for a shopping trolley token to every city resident sales of National Lottery scratchcards would plummet and Tudor Evans phoneline would be so busy even JB might not be able to summon him with a click of his fingers.

    What harm can it do James Brent holding the deeds to half of the city? Well possibly none at all except that all of these developments seem to rely on each other to work out and workmen on any of Mr Brent’s numerous ventures are conspicuous by there absence, including Oldway Mansions in Torbay which has been Akkeron owned for a worrying amount of time without anything actually going on in terms of development.

    According to a source close to Mr Brent this may all be due to a shortage of breeze blocks in the Plymouth area that has seen prices go through the roof, a price increase seemingly not experienced anywhere else in Britain according to builders merchants the length and breadth of the nation.

    Perhaps this localised breeze block crisis is the reason why work is slower than many expected, or slightly more worrying it maybe more to do with the external funding being sought that Martyn Starnes recently alluded to which suggests that Mr Brent is having to sell the idea of the all in one cine ice football Nando’s dentist school project to more than just the Argyle fanbase? This news has appeared from left field and throws another uncertain shadow over the whole project, not just the permanent shadow likely to be cast at HHP for all of the retail units dwarved by Ice rinks and state of the art cinemas?

    If indeed there are funding issues it would be surely something that the “open and transparent” regime Mr Brent promised informed the masses about? At the very least it would be something that the Argyle Fans Trust would have every right to ask about without Mr Brent and Mr Jones refusing to recognise their mere existence? The same AFT Mr Brent was more than happy to liaise and work arm in arm with when he was seeking to take ownership of the club in the not too distant past.

    Recently when faced with any awkward questions about the club the board have publicly shunned the AFT and a dirty tricks campaign designed to bring the Trust to it’s knees has been played out on the once independant Pasoti fans forum which now appears nothing but the clubs PR department. Indeed some high profile ex-Trust board members like Mr Webb have led the charge with the anti-Trust vibe despite being founders and stalwarts of so very recently!

    There is a distinct division between the pro-Brent “matter do it” crew who used to be oh so interested in the finer details of a cows vagina and the possibly over critical other side who are quite rightly still wary of property developers with designs on cinema complexes, but this is not helped by strange incidents like private investigators being hired to find out where fellow supporters live, a white feather being sent to a now sadly deceased supporter symbolising cowardice as he battled cancer, for not “trusting in Brent.” Threats being made by these high profile fans and their families towards other fans who were not ready to lie down and accept what they were being told. Drinks being thrown over fellow supporters for asking stupid questions like just how much debt the club is in and what loans had Mr Brent made to the club? These are not the imagination of freaks and weirdo’s as a certain forum owner would have you believe but real incidents, amongst many other outrageous goings on that have been well documented in the last couple of years, as a select few influential Argyle supporters form a protective ring around Mr Brent at whatever the cost.

    Over the coming weeks it will be interesting to see if any progress is noticeable at any of James Brent’s projects, or indeed if he is willing to “open the books” to let the fans Trust see exactly where the club is at the present time in comparison to when Mr Brent acquired the club. Maybe he will decide that pushing the AFT away is not the way to gain the trust of supporters and Argyle board members will discard these dossiers they are fond of compiling on “known troublemakers” rather like secretive Eastern European countries during the cold war?

    Until this happens then there will be individuals who probe, like this excellent article in the once vaunted 200% site that now is regarded as a relative of someone bearing a grudge and not the excellent inquisitive site that helped expose the shit storm the previous board had left behind. Any owner worth his salt, who’s lip trembles on occasions, would surely prefer to ease the concerns of the fanbase, or customers if you like, rather than shut up shop and refuse to acknowledge that any concerns exist. An owner who is heralded as the most open in Aryle’s history would surely want to clear up any “misunderstandings” and ease fans concerns about mounting loans and what amenities there will be for those thousands of customers itching to experience the same lip trembling pride the owner does?

    I hope so. As an Argyle fan of 30+ years who is currently so disillusioned by events at the club that I have fallen out of love with my club and I’m awaiting my valentines card to reignite my passion rather than find out that a doddery old private investigator with a seat in the directors box is once again selling my mother’s name and address to the highest bidder on a supporters coach.

    The ball’s in your court Mr Brent. Work with the AFT and disband the sycophantic PASB which was as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike in these gales. Let’s find out where the club stands and what progress there really is with the HHP project. If the whole thing is in trouble then let the fans know instead of us being led up the same garden path the previous board led us. A united fanbase with a strong fans trust is exactly what we need right now and it’s already there in place.

    pete gordon

    February 13, 2014

  23. I’m Newellacus!

    Ian Napolean Newell

    February 14, 2014

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