Manchester United football fans around the world have grouped together in a bid to try and derail Abu Dhabi’s $158m plans to develop a training complex for rival club Manchester City, which was bought by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) in 2008.
Businessman and Manchester United fan Shaun O’Brien claims Manchester City Football Club had offered him a “ridiculous” figure to buy his company OB Trucks, which is located within the area where the club’s plans to develop a $158m training complex near its homeground at Etihad Stadium.
In a bid to derail a compulsory purchase order (CPO) issued by Manchester City Council, O’Brien has set up a website selling 18,500 square-foot plots of his land to fellow Manchester United fans around the world.
“Mine and my lawyers understanding of it is, once [the CPO] is rubberstamped by the Secretary of State, they will have to find those people and deal with them on a one-to-one basis… A lot of people who are applying would never sell. They are ardent United fans and if you offered them a million pounds they would never sell,” O’Brien said.
Since going live earlier this month, the website – entitled ‘United Against City’ – O’Brien said he has had strong interest from Manchester United fans eager to buy one of the 18,500 plots, which are priced at 250 pounds ($395) each.
“The response has been amazing... Right across the United States, Australia, Singapore, Korea, Russia, South Africa. Germany seems to be the most popular area. There are 330m United fans around the world… We will use that as a tool in our armoury.”
The website states it is “dedicated to our campaign to prevent Manchester City’s attempts to acquire our land in Eastlands… in order to further their goals of football domination.”
O’Brien said the club had offered him a “ridiculous” figure of 200,000 pounds ($316,000) for his company and when he refused local council authorities issued him with the CPO.
“We believe they should never have had the power to use a CPO. Manchester City is a business, they want this land to further their business so why should I just give them my business? Why should they be able to determine a figure and I just accept it or else? It is not fair,” O’Brien told Arabian Business.
“They offered 200,000 pounds, which is a ridiculous figure, so we hit them with a ridiculous figure of 4.5 million pounds,” he added.
O’Brien said the club’s lawyers had offered a figure of 2.5m pounds before Christmas, but this was subsequently withdrawn and the latest figure offered as been just short of one million pounds, which he has rejected.
With thousands of fans buying up plots, Manchester City and council authorities will be forced to contact each of the new owners and negotiate with them to acquire their plot.
O’Brien has now appealed against the CPO and it will go towards a public inquiry and may need ministerial approval to be implemented.
“It has never really been about the money, it is the way they have dealt with it. It is a big bully scenario, they have a lot of influence and money and they think they can walk over the little man.”
Local Manchester press has reported that O’Brien’s allegiance to Manchester United was the motivation behind his actions, which he has denied.
“They said because I’m a United fan that is why I don’t want them to build what they are building. Because of that article we have suffered hate mail to my family… I don’t want to stop the scheme, I want them to build what they are going to build, I just don’t want to hand them over my property for nothing.”
Once the website has sold at least 5,000 plots, O’Brien said he will go back to the negotiating table. “The 5,000 figure, we think that is a significant amount to cause problems to the CPO,” he said.
While he would not divulge how many plots had been sold he admitted that a meeting has been arranged for next week in order to try and find a solution.
A Manchester City Council spokesman told Arabian Business: "We have made a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO ) for this land. This would not have been necessary if Mr O'Brien had been prepared to sell it at a realistic price and accept the football club's offer of help to relocate his business. The Unite Against City scheme is in no one's best interests except Mr O'Brien's. The valuation he is placing on this land is far in excess of anything in Manchester and would make it equivalent to the most expensive plots in the most exclusive areas of London.
"However, it will not significantly impact on this ambitious regeneration scheme because it was always recognised that there was a possibility a CPO might be necessary and ultimately the government will decide whether to grant the order based on what is in the public interest."
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