Professional football throws up such planning dilemmas. Stadia developments, usually now accompanied by a panoply of other uses, are space-hungry beasts, with extreme peaks in terms of traffic movements and noise. Football clubs are powerful institutions, often not driven by rational economic considerations, able to generate letters of support for their proposals from around the globe and with inevitably strong local political connections. And each club is effectively a monopoly: if a club says it needs to move or expand, what is a council to do? Who is going to blow the whistle?
It’s a particularly interesting week ahead for sports planning fans:
Chelsea FC’s proposed redevelopment of Stamford Bridge to create a new 60,000 seat stadium, with a direct link to Fulham Broadway tube station, is to be considered by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Planning and Development Control Committee on 11 January 2017 with a recommendation for approval. Whilst there are a variety of objections from local residents and groups as well as objections from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Royal Parks, 12,000 people signed and sent in standard form postcards supporting the development, including 6,449 from outside London as well as 2,481 from outside the UK – how much weight should be given to this sort of managed process?
Now here’s a curious situation. Luton Council’s submission version of its local plan, currently under examination, allocated a site just off junction 10 of the M1 for the relocation of league division 2 Luton Town FC from its Kenilworth Road Stadium. The site known as south of Stockwood Park, has been the club’s favoured relocation choice for many years. The club acquired it in 2015. There is a separate site in Luton town centre, known as the Power Court site, which is allocated for retail led development (although at submission stage the council made a modification to introduce the possibility of an element of use class D2 assembly and leisure).
The club has now decided that it does not wish to build a 15,000 seat stadium on the south of Stockwood Park site and instead wishes to build a 17,500 (rising ultimately to to 22,500) seat stadium on the Power Court site. In August 2016 it made planning applications for a stadium and associated development at the Power Court site and for retail and mixed use development at its out of town south of Stockwood Park site. The applications have not yet been determined.
Luton Council wrote to the local plan inspector on 22 November 2016 to indicate that, as it has “clear and unequivocal statements from the landowner to the effect that a stadium will not be developed” at the junction 10 site it had decided at a council meeting on 15 November 2016 to remove from the south of Stockwood Park allocation references to a 15,000 seater stadium and related facilities.
The local plan inspector is holding hearing sessions on 10 and 11 January 2017 to pick his way through the position and has issued supplementary questions for the sessions in the light of the turn of events.
The land surrounding Millwall’s New Den is the subject of a planning permission for the New Bermondsey mixed use development project, being promoted by Renewal Limited, which owns most but not all of the site. Renewal has been working with Lewisham Council to bring the scheme, which includes 2,400 new homes, community sports facilities, health centre, premises for a local church, business space and studios and enhanced public realm, to fruition. Renewal and Lewisham assert that the scheme will complement and support the club’s activities at the stadium.
However, the club and its supporters oppose elements of the Renewal scheme, asserting that the proposals would jeopardise the status of its youth academy which would in turn jeopardise the future of the club at the New Den. The Council’s Mayor and Cabinet decided on 7 September 2016 that a CPO should be made but, following pressure (including the 27,000 signature Defend Our Den campaign), the decision was called in under the Council’s internal procedures and the Council’s cabinet is due to reconsider the decision at a meeting on 11 January 2017, albeit with, again, a recommendation that the Council should use its CPO powers.
The issue has reached the national press, with a Guardian story on 5 January breathlessly headlined “Millwall admit council scheme could force club to leave Lewisham”. The Council has published its own Questions and Answers document.
Three different stories, from three different leagues. But familiar themes. How can clubs’ reasonable needs and the aspirations of their fans be mediated as against other planning objectives? And who determines need?
Simon Ricketts 7.1.17
Personal comments, et cetera