This statement provides an update on recent excellent progress towards the new stadium.
A key step for the stadium to proceed is the transfer of the land at Plough Lane to the club and the release of funds for development of the site. For this to happen, several parallel events need to complete.
First, the culvert, or drain, which runs through the site needs to be replaced by a new one that runs under the north/south street. The importance of this is that the Development Agreement (DA) between the Club and Merton Catalyst specifies that the culvert must be finished before we are able to take ownership of the land. In practice that isn’t essential and we are keen to take the land as soon as possible, so the DA is being amended to allow this to happen; the two sets of lawyers are close to agreeing the necessary changes.
Second, for the land to be transferred the site must have been cleared, which is now complete, and environmental reports issued confirming that there is no toxic material present. These reports are in the process of being completed.
Once these steps are in place the sale of our current stadium to Chelsea can be completed. This requires the following other matters to be completed.
There are several ‘Conditions Precedent’ (CP) which need to be complied with before the sale can complete. Most of these are complete. For example, one obvious CP is that we must have planning permission for Plough Lane, which we do. The three key areas yet to complete are:
1. The current stadium must be free of all charges. This means that the current loan from Barclays must have been repaid. We can’t do this until we receive funds from Chelsea and so the transaction will be dealt with in much the same way as someone might sell their existing house and buy a new one at the same time. In short these two related steps will be dealt with simultaneously by the relevant lawyers. We are in touch with Barclays’ lawyers to agree the process that will take place
2. There is also a charge on the stadium in connection with the grants from the Football Foundation. These grants are to be transferred to the new land and, again, this will be part of a process that all takes place simultaneously. Our lawyers are talking to their counterparts to make sure this too can happen smoothly
3. Finally, we are making some minor tweaks to the agreement with Chelsea to reflect the fact that the completion of the sale is taking place later than originally agreed. This is in hand and all the key points are agreed.
Taken together our expectation is that the transfer of the land and the completion of the sale of the current stadium will take place within about four weeks. Completion of the sale will make available funds to continue to invest in the development of the stadium; this is currently being funded from the club and we cannot continue to do this until we receive the payment from Chelsea.
Turning to the construction of the stadium, we are now in detailed discussions relating to ‘value engineering’ the current design. This is a process of looking at what we plan to build with the aim of simplifying the construction process and the design, thereby making it cheaper. We are awaiting the revised stadium cost and expect to receive this within the next three weeks at which point we will formalise the appointment of stadium contractors. The plan remains to start driving the first piles early in 2019 but it now looks clear that the stadium will not be ready for games to be played until the 2020/21 season.
In the background the s73 planning application to make some amendments to the stadium (and also to the wider site being developed by Merton Catalyst) is with the council and we hope that the planning committee hearing to deal with it will be held in November. To be clear, the original application is ‘banked’ and cannot be further challenged; this application is to vary it in a number of relatively minor ways.
We will provide further updates as these issues are cleared and the key steps of the land transfer and stadium sale move towards completion.