Tom Piatak says Carlisle United will do all they can to “mitigate” against the flooding risk at the site of their proposed new training ground.

The Blues are set to create a new facility at the Sheepmount, after talks with Cumberland Council.

Many fans have asked how the history of flooding at the site will affect United’s plans.

Blues owner and chairman Piatak said Carlisle will be taking all the advice possible on how to best handle that risk.

But he said that would not affect his and the club’s determination to make the most of the Sheepmount site, which Piatak feels is clearly their best option for their proposed facility.

On planning for the flooding risk, he told the News & Star: “The big one is, as we looked at the locations, we looked at the historical data of the flood tables and how high they were.

“So we know exactly when the last three large [flooding events] were and how high the flood water got. 

An aerial view of flooding at the Sheepmount after Storm Desmond in 2015An aerial view of flooding at the Sheepmount after Storm Desmond in 2015 (Image: Stewart Blair)

“So that's our basis. Now, that's not to say Mother Nature can't change, and that there [can’t be] a new historical record there.

“But there's risk in any business – and I don't mean this lightly, but that's why you have insurance. And if you're afraid to make a decision because of something, well, hedge against it, insure against it, do what you need to do.

“At the end of the day, you need to make the best decision for what you're trying to do, and we believe that's the [right] location.

“So we have work to do there. We're going to have some environmental engineering and studies done. But we can always elevate even above the plateau [at the Sheepmount] if we need to there.

“And when I look at it, I see the pitches…okay, if the water gets on the pitches, the water drains. So we're really looking at the indoor, the 3G pitch, and the training facility building as what we really have to protect, and we feel that we can do that.

“But there are a lot of engineering studies that will be ongoing to kind of validate what we need to do to protect us as best we can.”

Tom Piatak feels United can mitigate against flooding risks at the SheepmountTom Piatak feels United can mitigate against flooding risks at the Sheepmount (Image: News & Star)

United recently confirmed that a five-year lease for the upper plateau at the Sheepmount was the subject of discussion, and a consultation process with the council.

Piatak said the eventual goal is a much longer lease for the site so that Carlisle can put all their state-of-the-art training ground plans in place.

But the shorter term agreement will at least allow them to start the process.

“Honestly, I would love for it to have gone out with a 99-year lease in the consultation period, and that would have been fantastic,” said the Blues owner.

“But to get this moving, we had to break it up into phases, and phase one was [that] will put some investment in there, but the investment's going to be in line with a lease of five years. It's not going to be the major investment [at this stage]. And that's why I'm stating we would like to get one to two pitches up and running by October.

“A five-year lease provides us enough confidence that, if something was to happen at the end of the five-year – which I don't think it would – then we had the benefit for five years, and that's fine.

“But in order for the major investment to go in, it's going to need to be a much longer-term lease because it's going to be an investment in the community.

“I hope supporters and I hope Carlisle is starting to see that we're doing this and we’re making these investments into what we consider a community asset, the club.

“We want it to be right where it's at here 100 years from now. We just want it to be stronger, better, and we want to be winning, and we want to be in a higher division.”

Piatak said he hopes everyone with a stake in the project can see his and his family’s commitment to the Blues.

“I'm looking for a 99-year lease,” he added.

“The amount of investment that's going in there, it's not something that we can pick up, take down, and move somewhere else.

“So once we make that commitment and start putting it there, it's there for the long term.

“I know the council have a fiduciary responsibility to do what's right for Carlisle and the community, and they have to weigh all factors that can come into this.

“And there's probably been some history of bad acting at some point, within the EFL or football, and [they will have] cognizance of that.

“Again, I hope that people see that the EFL has done significant due diligence on Castle Sports Group and the Piatak family, what our intentions are, and our intentions are to do something here in the community that benefits Carlisle.

“[My wife] Patty and I are purchasing a residence here. That's another commitment that I hope they see that we're making a commitment to the community.

“We're buying additional residences for the club. So we're investing heavily right now, and we wouldn't be doing that if this was a short-term play or anything of that nature.”

Piatak has not ruled out using some debt to fund the training ground project but said this would only be done as the most financially beneficial method.

And he said his family’s major financial outlay already on United demonstrated their long-term commitment.

Asked about the training ground’s funding, he said: “The investment that's going in here at Brunton Park, which we said is upward of £5 million, is all going in as equity, and that's a significant investment there.

“I will say I will not rule out debt. If you look at our history, all our businesses are run debt-free, [but someone] who's coming from a finance background would probably say, ‘You know, Tom, that's not the most financially wise way to do that. There are certain discounts and expenses that you can get to reduce taxes if you have debt’.

“So that's out there, and I want to make sure people understand that. We're going to do what's right to get it done.

“Can we do it with equity? Yes, we can do it with equity, but we also need to look at what's the right financial way to do this.

“So I'm not going to rule out one or the other, but I do want to make it clear that what's happening here at Brunton Park in terms of over £5 million has been coming in as equity. There's no debt.

“The legacy debt that was hampering and holding this club back for how many years…I said we would solve that. I said we would solve it with equity. I said we would solve it quickly, and we did.

“So I hope people start to look at what our words were, what our actions are, and know that we have the best intentions for the club, and so we will do what's the best thing for the club at the time when a decision is made in terms of the cash coming in.”

The Piataks say their vision for the training ground would ultimately require a 99-year lease at the SheepmountThe Piataks say their vision for the training ground would ultimately require a 99-year lease at the Sheepmount (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Speaking further about the choice of the Sheepmount for the training ground, Piatak added: “We're in the consultation period right now. It was the best worst kept secret, I guess, out there. Everybody knew where it was.

“I think it's the right location. We think it's the right location for various reasons, but the primary reason is Carlisle is a community-based club, and we're right here, and we want to keep everything in walking distance.

“We just think that's so important. The upper plateau of Sheepmount is a beautiful facility. We think we can mitigate any of the flood issues. We live in Florida, and we're used to weather events, and we're used to water, and you can never predict Mother Nature. We all know that. Anything can happen.

“But I love that location for the location of the city centre and being able to walk there.

“Our vision is we want to see the young ones coming out there and looking through the fence saying, ‘I want to be part of that team. I want to go to the match because I watched them practice – whereas if you do it 30 miles outside of town, you just don't have that synergy.

“Our vision is for the club first, obviously. We have to do that. But we also look at Carlisle as a community, and we love this community, and we want to make sure that everything that we're doing is benefiting the community as well.

“We truly believe that we can bring folks up here and be able to say, ‘Don't just come up for a match, come up here for a weekend, and you know what? We can give you a tour of the museum of the Blues, and you can have lunch in Foxy's, and then you can go to Hadrian's Wall, and then you can go to the castle, and there's things to do that can benefit every business in Carlisle and Cumbria’.

“So that's our overall goal – if we can elevate this club, we elevate it for all businesses and everything, and it's the right thing to do.

“So having it downtown city centre, when you look at all the factors that went into the evaluation, I will tell you it was the dominant decision maker for us.”

Piatak, speaking in April, had publicly called on the council to “speed up the process” of discussions on the training ground site.

Asked for his views on that now, the businessman said: “You know, the speed was not where I would want it to be, and that's not a criticism of anything here in Carlisle or the council.

“That just could be how it operates over here, and things are different back in Florida.

“But I'm very pleased at where we're at now, and so I'm confident that once we get through this consultation period and if everything gets approved, I think the speed can pick up from there.”