It’s an untruth that we frequently see peddled by supporters of AFC Wimbledon’s plans for Plough Lane: if the football club’s scheme for a new stadium and vast housing development is rejected, then we will be left living next to an eyesore of a site that will never be improved. Or it will be turned into a giant IKEA. Or it will be covered 100% in housing.
The Plough Lane site has been officially designated for sporting intensification. That means under planning law it cannot be re-developed into a mega supermarket or housing estate. Merton planners are obliged to allow use of the site for sporting purposes rather than purely commercial.
But the term sporting intensification does NOT mean AFCW has a God-given right to move in there either. Wimbledon Stadium currently hosts regular greyhound meets and banger racing. It used to also be a top venue for speedway. What’s that if not sporting?
Here’s where we are now: our local ‘community club’ has entered a commercial agreement with housing developers Galliard Homes. It is backing the construction of a rash of 10-storey apartment blocks and a retail unit on a vast tranche of the Plough Lane site, relying on this over-sized housing development (and the associated community detriments it would bring) to pay for its longed-for new stadium.
It’s a football stadium that offers no training space for local youngsters and no community facilities. It will generate considerable traffic and transport problems. The only chance of locals getting any use out of the stadium? The passive act of attending a football match.
Not exactly sporting intensification, is it? Oh, and it’s not just us saying this: Sport England agrees. Lack of sporting provision and recreation facilities for residents is the main reason why this organisation has lodged a formal objection to the AFCW planning application.
So imagine the current planning application is rejected. Will the site lie empty and rundown, as AFCW scaremongers warn? Of course it won’t. A rival bid has already been mooted to replace the current greyhound stadium with a modern facility should the AFCW/Galliard Homes bid fail.
And if that plan falls through too, why wouldn’t another sporting bid be put on the table? Gym, velodrome, indoor ski or trampolining centre? Basketball courts? Go-karting? BMX, netball or hockey facilities? Come on Merton, have a bit of imagination and open up the site to bids from other sporting organisations! Ones that can afford to pay their way on the site, so a smaller housing development would be feasible.
Yes, it’s highly probable that Galliard Homes would find another partner to work with – one requiring less in the way of financial support (let’s face it, fan-owned AFC Wimbledon isn’t exactly awash with funds). If the housing partner no longer has to fund the vanity project of a new stadium for AFCW, the residential element of the scheme could be reduced while profit levels are maintained, making the whole proposal more acceptable on planning grounds.
A commercial sporting partner that can pay its own way could make life a whole lot easier for Galliards, particularly now they are aware that the current plan has not received the overwhelming support that they had perhaps been promised by certain local councillors pre-application.
Of one thing we are certain: this is a scenario that will certainly have occurred to developer professionals Galliard Homes. The question is: at what point do they reach the conclusion that getting into bed with a fourth-tier local football team is simply not going to deliver them the profit levels they need?