Who owns the Greyhound Stadium currently?
The stadium is owned by Risk Capital Partners, a private equity group run by Luke Johnson. Housing developers Galliard Homes have joined ranks with AFC Wimbledon to promote proposals to redevelop the greyhound site into a football stadium. The debt used to purchase the site was provided by a major Irish bank which means it’s now under the control of NAMA, the Irish Government’s financial institution established in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008/9.
Why are they pushing for redevelopment of the stadium?
Profit! NAMA would like to recover its debt. By changing the use of the site from a rundown racing facility to a site capable of accommodating hundreds of new housing units, its value will increase, allowing the debt to be repaid and surplus profits distributed. Galliard Homes want to develop the maximum number of houses possible on the site to maximise its value.
Let’s be clear, they are NOT planning to redevelop this site for love of local football. Risk Capital’s motivation in acquiring the Plough Lane greyhound stadium site was its medium-/long-term redevelopment opportunity and the associated value uplift from a planning consent. They have already done similar with other sites in Oxford and Portsmouth – closing the greyhound stadia and selling off the land for housing developments.
If the owners of the greyhound stadium don’t think the current business is viable, surely no one else will either?
Recent years have seen close to zero investment in the site by Risk Capital, so it has become increasingly rundown; prize money for greyhound racing has also been slashed, discouraging owners from competing and thus leading to a drop in spectators.
Since the AFCW/Galliard plans were called in by the Mayor of London, a separate bid for the Plough Lane site from Paschal Taggart, the former Chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board has emerged. He apparently wants to replace the current stadium with a new purpose-built stadium, reviving the tradition of greyhound racing in Wimbledon. (Read about his plans here.) The plans also include housing and other facilities on remaining areas of the site – although fewer homes than are outlined in the AFC Wimbledon proposals. It believes that a dog track is a perfectly viable business, particularly now that Wimbledon is London’s last remaining greyhound racing venue.
The Mayor of London too previously stated that he would be in favour of seeing a greyhound stadium remain on this site for historic reasons.
Surely any plans to improve this tatty, rundown site should be welcomed?
It’s true, the old greyhound stadium and surrounding area is an eyesore. The site has already been identified by Merton Council for “sporting intensification with enabling development”. So far, AFC Wimbledon and the greyhound proposal have been mooted. Other potential developers may also emerge.
Any development on the Plough Lane site, which sits right on the border of Merton and Wandsworth, will have some impact on local areas: think traffic, public transport, demand for school places, health services, flooding, social amenities, the general feel of local neighbourhoods. Whatever development is approved needs to meet these constraints – and include the appropriate steps to mitigate any negative impact.
So what do AFC Wimbledon want to build?
The football club, which currently plays just a mile outside the borough in Kingston Upon Thames, wants to replace the current construction with a new stadium of 20,000 seats, although they say it will initially start with 11,000 seats and be expanded in due course. They also want to put 602 housing units (mainly flats) and a supermarket on the site, which is a highest-risk category floodplain. Read more about proposals for the Plough Lane stadium site here. Since their plans were approved by Merton Council in December 2015, the club has downgraded its plans saying it can actually only afford to build a stadium with fewer than 10,000 seats.
I have some worries as a local resident, but do think it would be lovely to see AFC Wimbledon playing in SW19. What should I do?
The debate here is not about whether AFC should return to Wimbledon – they have already said there were alternative sites in the borough they would consider – it’s about whether the Plough Lane area can cope with a 20,000-seat stadium and 600 housing units. It’s also about whether their plans meet planning guidelines, which they don’t on affordable housing grounds, and appear not to on grounds of flooding and transport considerations.
Is there space on our roads for the associated traffic and parking such a development would bring? Is public transport in this area up to the task? Can our schools and doctors surgeries deal with the extra residents here?
You should make up your own mind whether this is an appropriate site for this development proposal – read the facts, look at the impact and decide whether it can genuinely work. You might well feel that a smaller-scale development would be easier on the Plough Lane neighbourhood.
Football was previously played at Plough Lane, so what’s the problem in bringing it back now?
The former football stadium was replaced with a large-scale housing development on the corner of Durnsford Road and Plough Lane. Residents who lived in the surrounding streets while the former Wimbledon FC played at their now extinct HQ, tell of
- how they could not have vehicular access to their streets on match days
- there was anti-social behaviour in residential areas
- many shops and local businesses were disrupted.
Roll on 20 years: local roads are considerably busier, the railway stations are handling many more passengers, the old stadium site is now new flats, no new schools or health centres have been built in the area, flood risk has increased.
Imagine the impact of dropping a new 20,000-seat stadium and 600+ homes, with extremely limited parking provision for residents, on this site. Are the people – and, sadly, this includes a number of our local politicians – welcoming these plans really right in telling us not to worry, that everything will be fine?
How do I know if I’m affected by what’s planned?
If you live within one mile of the stadium, whether Merton or Wandsworth, you will be affected.
If AFC Wimbledon don’t get promoted they won’t need to build a 20,000-seat stadium, so surely they will stick with the phase one proposal for 11,000 seats?
The planning application is for a 20,000-seat stadium but only 11,000 might initially be constructed. Don’t be fooled: if the 20,000-seat plan is approved, this is what we will end up with in Plough Lane. Chances are that a second club, either rugby or football, may share the facility; Merton’s council leader Stephen Alambritis has already suggested this would be possible.
Other activities may be allowed too (music concerts etc), increasing the likelihood of the larger capacity stadium being built in a shorter timeframe, and leading to the potential of wider disruption to the neighbourhood with crowds and traffic extending over more days – and nights.
Plough Lane is a floodplain, surely that means nothing much can be built there anyway?
Strict Environment Agency legislation governs what can and can’t be built on a flood plain. The site is classified almost entirely as a Category 3b (high risk) floodplain, and displacement of flood water is not allowed. This means development on the site should be limited to what the legislation allows.
Merton’s own planning rules forbid building of basements in floodplain areas; the AFC Wimbledon plans include basement car parking which should therefore not be permitted.
Let’s make sure Merton planners abide by these rules and protect neighbouring homes and roads from flooding risks associated with any new development. Find out more about Plough Lane’s flooding issues here.
Will there be an impact on local traffic?
602 homes and crowds of up to 20,000 will inevitably generate additional traffic and have considerable impact on local public roads. We understand the Plough Lane/Gap Road/Durnsford Road junction has already been fully upgraded to accommodate the residential development on the old stadium site, and is a constant jam at peak times. The AFCW plans state that Ploigh lane and Summerstown would be closed temporarily on match days to allow supporters to leave the stadium. An additional concern is for emergency vehicles travelling to and from St George’s Hospital on match days, with hordes of supporters visiting/leaving the stadium.
AFC Wimbledon’s plans fail to address the full impact on traffic and public transport of their proposed development. Find out what they are missing here.
Who decides on whether the planning application is approved or not?
Councillors sitting on Merton’s planning committee gave their approval for the Plough Lane scheme at a meeting on December 10, 2015, but it was ‘called in’ by the Mayor of London in March 2016, taking the final decision out of Merton’s hands. The application will now be considered by the Mayor, most likely some time after the Mayoral elections in May 2016.
It is well known that Merton councillors enjoy hospitality from AFC Wimbledon and support the club’s plans to make its home in the borough. Supporting your local football club is admirable, but a planning application should be judged on its own merits, with full consideration given to its feasibility, whether it meets planning guidelines and planning law, and what effects it will have on the neighbourhood.
Which Merton Councillors are responsible for the affected wards?
The Plough Lane stadium is located in Wimbledon Park; councillors responsible for this ward are Janice Howard, Oonagh Moulton and Linda Taylor.
However, residents in other areas of Wimbledon will also see their quality of life affected by developments at the this site: parking, traffic, public transport and social amenities should all be a concern. Contact your local councillor to make your views heard.
Getting in touch with the MP for Wimbledon Stephen Hammond is another way to fight your corner. He’s on twitter too: @SHammondMP
Wandsworth residents too should lobby their local councillors to ensure their opinions are taken into account.