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Club News

What next for stadium?

12 January 2016

Erik's update after planning application was approved

Chief Executive Erik Samuelson explained in the Bristol Rovers programme what will happen next after the club’s planning application for a new stadium in Plough Lane was approved.

For those supporters who may have missed it, this article is reproduced in full below.

There is still a long way to go, but hopefully in years to come 10 December 2015 will be seen as a watershed in our hoped-for return to Wimbledon. Since that day, the question everyone’s been asking is, “What happens next?” Here Erik attempts to answer that, explaining the various uncertainties we still face.

At the meeting of Merton Council’s Planning Committee held on 10 December at Merton Civic Centre, the committee members voted 10–0 to support our joint application with Galliard Homes to develop the site of the greyhound stadium in Plough Lane.

We had sought permission to build a 20,000-capacity stadium (to be developed in phases, with an opening capacity of up to 11,000) with accompanying housing and retail development. That vote, as big a step as it was, is not a final decision as there are several steps remaining in the planning process. We believe we will be kicking off in the new stadium at the start of the 2018/19 season. But where exactly are we now?

First, Merton’s decision has to be ratified by the Mayor of London. Before the Mayor can do this, he needs to be supplied with all the relevant information. That includes a viability statement which sets out the income to be derived from the site (mainly from the sale of flats) and the construction and other costs. It calculates the developer’s budgeted profit and enables Merton Council to specify, in the light of the budgeted profit, the amount of affordable housing that must be provided on the site.

The viability statement must be agreed by Merton Council and the applicants. From the date on which the Mayor receives the notification and associated documentation from Merton Council, he has two weeks to make a decision (although he could choose to extend that).

You may have seen that Wandsworth Council has asked the Mayor not to ratify the application, but instead to call it in. The possible options for the Mayor are to:

1.  Instruct Merton Council to determine the application – in other words, tell Merton to go ahead;

2.  Seek views in an informal consultation, which could add a month or two to the timetable and would lead to either option 1 or option 3;

3.  Call-in the application, with or without going through option 2. In effect, the Mayor would take over the planning decision. There would then be a public inquiry, with a number of parties invited to put their views. If this happened it could add six months to the timetable.

If the Mayor doesn’t call in the application, it is still possible for the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government to take up the case, to check that the application meets the strategic aims of government. Although it is possible that the Secretary of State will intervene, we think it is very unlikely as the Department does so only reluctantly.

There are two more key steps to be taken before the decision becomes final. First, the parties (Galliard Homes, Merton Council and AFC Wimbledon) must sign a Section 106 agreement. This is an agreement that requires the developer to make one or more financial contributions to mitigate the effects of the development. Typically, the contributions go towards improvements to nearby roads, to public transport, or to help fund an expansion of a nearby school. The S106 agreement can be developed while the Mayor is making his decision, though there is then the risk that the effort will have been wasted if the application is called in. A S106 agreement can take anything from one to four months to finalise.

If the Mayor does not call in the application and the S106 agreement is finalised, Merton Council can then issue a decision notice. At that point the clock starts ticking for a possible judicial review. Anyone may seek a judicial review. Individuals may lobby the Mayor or the Secretary of State to call in an application, but it is up to them to decide how to respond to the lobbying, whereas if a judicial review is called for then it has to be considered. Avoiding technical jargon, there are only two reasons why a judicial review has to be considered:

• the decision makes no sense in the light of the underlying evidence, or

• the process was not properly implemented.

Anyone wishing to seek a judicial review has six weeks, from the date the decision notice is issued, to make their case to a judge that the application fails to meet one of the above two criteria. The judge will then take about two months to decide whether, on the face of it, there is a case to be answered. If the judge decides that there is, then we could be looking at a further delay of more than a year.

Seeing all this set out in this way is probably depressing for the uninitiated (which included me until about a year ago), but we are optimistic that the Mayor will not call in our application because we have a strong case that has been well argued and presented. But even if the Mayor does not call in the application, if the S106 agreement is finalised quickly, and if no-one seeks a judicial review, I can’t see the decision being final and non-appealable in less than about four months.

After that, the process is more clear-cut. Galliard Homes will, at some point in the process, feel sufficiently confident to issue notice to the tenants on the site. Once the tenants have departed, site clearance will start. This will take some time, and I think we will have done very well if we are starting construction a year from now.

One of the congratulatory messages I received from a friend said, “Well done. Now the hard work starts!” That is not wildly wrong. Before we can start construction we need to (although not necessarily in this order): finalise the stadium design; develop operational stadium plans to satisfy the regulatory authorities; develop a tender document, identify a shortlist of companies to tender, carry out and assess the tender and award the contract; complete the agreement for the sale of Kingsmeadow to Chelsea; finalise the financing arrangements; and agree final terms with Kingstonian.

At the same time we will be working on a naming rights deal; researching what we want to do about catering in the stadium (i.e. in-house or outsourced); considering how we fit out the stadium’s furnishings, decorations, etc., including a pitch; and no doubt many other matters. I don’t think we are going to be short of things on which to keep you updated over the coming period.

This is a massive and quite daunting list of tasks. But just think – only a couple of years ago, what would we have given to be facing these “problems”?

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