DRAGONS chairman David Buttress is in talks with investors that would lead to the Rodney Parade region returning to private ownership with the Welsh Rugby Union as minority shareholders.

Newport RFC shareholders agreed to a takeover of the Dragons by the governing body, who previously owned 50 per cent, and the sale of their historic ground in the summer of 2017.

Buttress was appointed as chairman that September after taking a minority stake and now the former Just Eat chief executive is in discussions with interested parties that would see the WRU take a back seat in the east.

“If the process was successful it would dilute the WRU share and mean the Dragons would be majority-owned by private individuals again,” said the chairman.

“The WRU would remain a shareholder, but it would no longer be the majority shareholder, which I think would be good for the WRU and it would be good for other regions because we would all in the same place in terms of ownership. But we are not there yet.”

South Wales Argus: BACKING: Dragons chairman David Buttress is in talks with private investorsBACKING: Dragons chairman David Buttress is in talks with private investors

The Dragons operate on a smaller budget to the Scarlets, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues but Buttress hopes the move to private ownership would translate to on-field progress.

“I had meetings on the weekend, I had meetings last week. I am working at that, hopefully successfully and not just hard,” he said.

“I am trying as hard as physically possible to get external private investment, from individuals, into the region.

“It would be a shareholding in the region. There are no guarantees and it’s not done but they are serious and genuine conversations.

“I would absolutely love for it to happen because my job is to give the players and fans the best possible chance of winning rugby games. The only way to do that is get as much money into the till as possible, and that’s my most important task.

“Fingers crossed, nothing is done but the conversations have been genuine and real.”

When Buttress arrived at Rodney Parade he stressed the importance of developing the north end of the nine-acre site – ‘the cabbage patch’ – in order to generate revenue for the Dragons, with building a hotel the most likely option.

South Wales Argus: POTENTIAL: The Dragons are looking to develop the north end of Rodney Parade, to the left of this picturePOTENTIAL: The Dragons are looking to develop the north end of Rodney Parade, to the left of this picture

However, plans to act swiftly have been hindered by the turmoil over the future of professional club rugby in Wales.

“It’s been delayed,” admitted Buttress. “The last six months of getting the Professional Rugby Agreement done with the WRU, setting up the Professional Rugby Board, then the Ospreys-Scarlets discussion, the funding for next season, has taken up all of the management time of the last few months.

“We have had a couple of meetings with developers but I would say that has been delayed by four months, maybe six.

“That’s a nagging frustration for me but I am hoping that all the other stuff will be put to bed, so let’s get back focused on building things.

“The last few weeks has been chaotic, so the sooner we get back on with ‘proper work’ the better. The players deserve that and so do the fans.

“Private investment can help but for this region in particular we have a unique opportunity with a nine-acre site in a city-centre of which half is a blank canvas, although we do have neighbours that we have to respect.

“There is a lot of opportunity here and when I first got involved that was one of the things that I was most excited by in terms of generating money to invest in the team.

“That has got to be done, because for this region to be properly competitive on the pitch Rodney Parade has to be working hard for us.

“If you think about other stadia around Britain that generate significant revenues on non-match days, Rodney Parade can be that because we have got the space.

“We would fund it through private investment. There are multiple ways that you can raise the money.

“Almost like a house mortgage you can raise debt to pay back over 15 or 20 years off the profits and the returns that the development generates, we could go to a pension fund and say that we need this much and we will pay you X per cent per year in exchange for helping develop it, there’s obviously the WRU, so there are multiple ways.

“Can we raise the money to develop Rodney Parade? I am very confident that we can, I think it’s a great asset at the centre of a city that is growing.

“I think that we will be able to raise the money but what we will have to do is make sure we partner with the right developer so that whatever we do makes the best return.

“We will also talk to some key local strategic operators who are very used to developing land and property in this region and running successful businesses.

“We are already consulting with them a little bit privately about what that needs to look like, what are the learnings, what should we put on Rodney Parade that would generate the best returns etcetera, etcetera.

“Is there risk in development? Of course, always, but the alternative is doing nothing and that is definitely not a viable alternative.”

The 2017 takeover led to the WRU buying Rodney Parade but Buttress insists any profit generated by building on the north site would go to the Dragons despite claims it would be split between the four regions.

“I can say categorically – and it has been minuted and agreed in a PRB meeting – that any development that happens at Rodney Parade will be for the benefit of the Dragons,” said Buttress.

“Of course, that benefits all of the Welsh game, because it might mean the funding requirement is less, but any moneys that it generates will come to the Dragons. That is definitely what is agreed.”

South Wales Argus:

Buttress is a member of the Professional Rugby Board and expressed his regret at the chaos surrounding Project Reset at the start of the month.

A merger between the Scarlets and Ospreys was expected to be rubber-stamped but then the Liberty Stadium region pulled out before releasing a number of punchy statements.

The regions will remain as they are for next season but Buttress believes tough decisions will still have to be made in the coming weeks and months.

“The Scarlets put out a statement that was a very fair and accurate reflection of the conversations that had happened,” said Buttress.

“It was unfortunate that it all got played out publicly. Building things is hard and what has become apparent to me is that there are some really good plans being made, some really exciting plans being made.

“Sometimes things are more difficult than they should be, but equally there is a lot of emotion involved whatever region you are from.

“That does make things difficult because when you are making big and tough decisions it is hard for the people that are impacted.

“But I am an optimist and there are lots of good things happening, some of the decisions being made are right for Welsh rugby in the long-term but the reality is that some are going to be harder to get done than maybe all of us initially thought.

“The plan is to stay as we are and take some time to reflect and think about the best way to implement the whole strategy.

“But there is some really exciting stuff happening, whether it’s the development around the game or some of the investments happening.

“This 12 months won’t be quiet, some of it will be really great news and exciting while some of it will be hard to get done, but we’ve got to push forward because the game needs it.

“That’s very obvious to anyone closely involved – the game needs investment and doing more of the same, in my opinion, is not going to be enough.”