"From the Boardroom" feature from Saturday's programme
Following the Secretary of State’s decision not to call in our planning application, Chief Executive Erik Samuelson explained in Saturday’s matchday programme against Gillingham what still needs to be done before the bulldozers can move in.
Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government announced that he is denying Wandsworth Council’s request to call in our planning application for a new stadium in Plough Lane. While we believed there were never any grounds for him to call it in, the possibility that he might do so and delay the project by a year or more was a worry. Now that he has announced his decision, we can proceed with the next stages.
I want to set out today what those stages should be – and warn of one possible final hurdle. But first, on behalf of the club and the Dons Trust, I want to thank everyone who wrote to the Secretary of State (and, at various other times, to the Mayor of London and Merton Council). It is also right to give particular thanks to Charlie Talbot, Marc Jones, Mike Arrowsmith and David Lloyd, who were the driving force behind the Bring The Dons Home campaign and who played such a large part in getting so many people to write in. I’d also like to thank a number of influential people who lobbied assiduously behind the scenes to make sure our case was heard. I will talk about them another day.
What now? Well, despite Wandsworth Council’s request we have been continuing work on the project, and by chance had arranged a meeting with our partners, Galliard Homes, and their advisors for the day after Merton were notified of the Secretary of State’s decision. The purpose of that meeting was to identify what we need to do to finalise the Section 106 agreement.
As I’ve explained before, Section 106 agreements are legal agreements between local authorities and developers and set out a series of obligations for the developers that cover, for example, affordable housing or road and transport improvements that must be implemented as a condition of permission being granted. In our case, the agreement was sufficiently well developed to support our planning application, but it now needs finalising, along with an associated development agreement which sets out the terms of a substantial number of other matters. These include how the land on which the stadium will be built is to be transferred to us, and how and when Galliard’s contribution to the cost of the stadium will be paid.
These issues are not all agreed yet, and a reasonable, if challenging, target for agreeing the Section 106 and the underlying development agreement is December. Once Merton, Galliard and the club sign that agreement, then the planning application is finally determined. It is at that stage that we might face one final hurdle in that someone might call for a judicial review (JR), which is a type of court proceeding in which a judge would review the lawfulness of the decision.
Broadly speaking, a JR can be instigated when either, in layman’s terms, the decision seems to defy all logic, or if the process by which the decision was arrived at was flawed. From the date of the Section 106 being signed there are six weeks in which an application for a JR may be made, and a judge then has a further six weeks to decide whether or not there is a case to answer. If there is, then we would face a substantial delay while the case is heard. However, the planning review carried out by Merton has been so comprehensive that we are confident that a request for a JR would be denied.
So, such an application might delay us by three months – which, coincidentally, is the period of notice that has to be given to the tenants currently occupying the site. In other words, during the maximum period in which we are exposed to the possibility of an application for a JR, work couldn’t start anyway because the notice period for tenants would still be in process, so there would be no additional delay.
In broad terms, once the notice period has expired then clearance of the site can begin. This could take between six and nine months. Once that is complete, we will be given a lease on the relevant part of the site and we can start building. And wouldn’t that be something!
In a future programme I will go into more detail about the other things we need to do before construction can start. But for now, let’s just sit back and dream …