Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The New Stamford Bridge & the CPO: Destiny or Dissolution?

So the stadium plans are out and the planning application will be ready for submission within weeks. We at CFCtruth have not commented on the plans themselves – there is more than enough coverage out there already and we don’t see it as our role. But we have attended the consultations and have formed our own opinions of the design (which we mostly love) and of the prospect of playing for the foreseeable future at our historic home (which we are thrilled about). If that surprises you then, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we are not and have never been a ‘pro-move’ blog despite what our (former?) antagonists suggest. We remain ‘pro-club’ and ‘pro-ambition’ and the plans that we have seen are hugely ambitious and are perfectly fitting for what is a unique club who play at a unique ground. In this context we will continue to provide clear information, attempt to interpret and explain where we can and to keep the activities of LBHF in sharp focus.

That said, some of us are perhaps a little concerned that all this is just a very, very slick PR exercise at present.  We remain hopeful that everything will come to fruition but we have too much knowledge of local politics, especially in relation to the planning process, to believe with any certainty that this will be all smooth sailing. We are also fully aware that, as a business decision, this project makes little sense even if we assume the (we think seriously underestimated) costs are limited to around £500m. The ‘cost per seat’ totals are horrendous. Thankfully, we are no longer looking at a pure business decision - Roman appears to want a permanent legacy for his club and who are we to argue? 

What none of us could really have predicted or accounted for was the genius of Herzog and de Meuron in fitting a stunning quart-sized stadium into a beautifully located but pint-sized pot. This particular concept still remains something of a miraculous one...and we continue to wonder whether, if and when the stadium is built and once detailed work is done, the capacity might have to be reduced. The genuine limitations of the space available also gives us some concern for the eventual layout and comfort of the ground but we shall see, and the solutions to egress that are being proposed may be the answer to the problems. But they are eye-wateringly expensive solutions.

We can speculate all we want about what would have happened if the CPO had voted Yes back in October 2011. Maybe we’d be building a stadium at Old Oak Common. More likely Earls Court given what we know of what was happening at the time. Or the Stamford Bridge project could perhaps be two years ahead of where we are now. We have no wish to remove the wind from the sails of the SayNoers but we would only say that we distinctly recall all their accusations of ‘land-grabbing’ and ‘vote-rigging’ by Roman and of ‘secret plans to move the club to Milton Keynes’. We would argue strongly that the ambition and attention to detail of the current stadium plans are testament to Roman Abramovich’s good faith and good intentions from the start. This was never a get rich quick scheme for Roman – just have we have always argued.

What next for the CPO? The second consultation made it absolutely clear that the club will need to go back to the Pitch Owners to seek permission for the overall development but the precise timing for this decision is not yet confirmed. The project schedule anticipates a planning decision in early 2016 which would suggest that the CPO AGM around the beginning of next year would be a sensible opportunity for the club to approach the Pitch Owners. That said, the club’s planned work on covering the railway lines planned for 2016-2017 does not impinge on the CPO’s freehold (which takes in the pitch and the land the existing stands sit on) so a delay in asking the question is possible if not entirely logical. What will ‘the question’ be though?

Now we at CFCtruth take a relatively neutral and disinterested view of the CPO as a concept. We are Pitch Owners ourselves but we do not consider the CPO sacrosanct as many others do. Despite the myth-making, The CPO never quite 'Saved the Bridge' but it did provide handy protection against property speculators all the way from its founding in 1993 until the Stamford Bridge freehold was acquired by Matthew Harding around two years later. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of 2011, since then the CPO has become somewhat of an anachronism. In a sense, it is now a 'nice to have' rather than an essential protection for the club going forward into the future.  This will become all the more true if the new stadium is built as planned at Stamford Bridge, as we will discuss below.

Going back to the upcoming 'question' though, will Roman ask the CPO to vote itself out of existence?  And what should the CPO's answer be? Dedicated Facebook pages are being set up to ask just that question and there appear to be hints that things might start getting heated once again. Clearly the CPO Board is also starting to consider the issues involved and we welcome that. 

So far, reports have been mixed as to whether Roman will ask the CPO to merely give permission for the development to take place and for the club to play elsewhere for three years, or if he will seek to gain full control of the Stamford Bridge freehold by getting the CPO to disband. A few second-hand reports from the consultations suggest that some people have been reassured that Roman gaining ownership of the freehold is not a pre-requisite for the new stadium to be built while other reports suggest Roman and the consultants have never even got around to discussing the issue. This seems a little unlikely to us.

So what should the CPO's response be if it is simply asked to wind itself up? As a standalone question, we are sure that it would be rejected (especially as a full 75% of votes would have to be in favour of the motion for it to pass). Why throw away a unique protection for the club however unlikely it is to be needed? But we need to consider the likely response of the CPO in the current context. What if, after Roman has raised excitement levels among Chelsea supporters to fever pitch about their shiny new Stamford Bridge, he said to the Pitch Owners that while he would be happy to pay for this amazing new stadium to be built exactly where they want it, in return they will first need to give up the CPO? What would the likely response be then?

There are various reasons Abramovich might want the CPO consigned to history and to full take full ownership of Stamford Bridge. It might be for tax or debt purposes; it might be down to pure vanity, or he may, for practical reasons, need to mortgage the value of the whole Stamford Bridge site in order to finance a development that may well cost the best part of a billion pounds. The point is if the CPO is asked to vote itself out of existence in return for a new stadium, what will its answer be? For those Pitch Owners reading this blog right now, what would your own answer be?

Various Chelsea fans are already starting to make their position clear on the issue in advance of any question:
I have no issues with the stadium expansion personally (never have had, stay or leave) but mortgaging of the freehold is a major issue to me. If the club are prepared to make this statement categoric as a commitment in writing [that is that the CPO will not need to disband and the freehold will not need to be mortgaged for the stadium to be rebuilt], it gets my instant go ahead. But not 1 minute before.  'Sid Celery' on Twitter.

In my opinion the CPO must stay and in its current form! There are no footballing reason for it being disbanded as it's only real function is allowing real fans to protect the long term future of the club we love! Surely no one who cares about the club would be opposed to an organisation that does that!  Vic Locke on Facebook.

Some CPO die-hards would reject the suggestion outright, stadium or no stadium. Many more would consider the pros and cons and would then, we believe, reluctantly vote Yes. Enough to swing the vote behind dissolution? Probably yes because the momentum behind the stadium development is so emphatic now. But every Pitch Owner will have to make their own choice on the matter and we will not seek to influence the debate unless to counter petty grandstanding, misinformation or outright lies. However, we at CFCtruth would caution against the unthinking rejection of an offer to build a world class stadium for the club now in exchange for the loss of an antiquated legal safeguard which may never be required. As we have always said the best protection for the club is to be self-sufficient and the best route to self-sufficiency is our own world-class stadium.

There is one point we would like to make however. If the CPO were to vote itself out of existence, it needs to do so with caution and with a critical awareness of timing issues. Because despite CFCtruth playing down the degree of genuine protection the CPO has provided for the club over its history, it may well be approaching its moment of destiny. With the planned move away from Stamford Bridge looming in the next few years the club will be entering uncharted territory and a period of unprecedented vulnerability at which time the CPO's protection may finally be crucial.

Other clubs do not have the protection of their equivalent of the CPO but are not considered to be under constant threat. However what post-war history has shown is that clubs are in most danger when their home stadiums are sold from under them or if they are moved away from their home ground.  Clubs as diverse as Leeds United, Coventry City, Charlton Athletic and Brighton have suffered from these issues over the years. Some clubs such Hereford United and Scarborough have disappeared completely at least partly due to complications over ground ownership. Chelsea is a huge club compared to the others listed but we are not immune to the dangers.

We at CFCtruth are not going to suddenly start accusing Roman of ulterior motives and we remain convinced of his good faith. But what if, in three years’ time, the CPO is gone, Stamford Bridge has been flattened, the club is happily knocking the ball around at the national stadium and then Roman falls under the proverbial bus...what then? What if the ownership of the club is passed on to someone else who wants the club to play at Wembley permanently and would prefer to scrap redevelopment plans at the Bridge and sell the land for luxury housing instead? What could we Chelsea fans do about it? Without the CPO, nothing.

Once the new stadium has been built (at huge cost) our fears will be assuaged. We just cannot conceive of any situation where it would make financial sense for a future owner of the club to just scrap a world famous, iconic stadium that cost hundreds of millions to build, in order to build flats. The financial costs and benefits of doing this could never make sense and so the building of the stadium would, in itself and in the way it would make the club so much more self-reliant, provide an almost unchallengeable level of ongoing protection for the club. For that period before Chelsea FC move back into the completed ground, however, the club is vulnerable.

For this reason we recommend that if the CPO is asked to wind itself up and the Pitch Owners consider agreeing to this request, that we do so at the right time and with a watertight level of legal protection in place to ensure that the club is absolutely certain to move back to a complete and spectacular new Stamford Bridge in due course. We are reassured by their latest minutes that the CPO Board are also considering these questions seriously.

And so we wait for the next step. For a process that seemed so moribund for such a long period everything now seems to be happening at a lightning-fast pace. The planning application is likely to be submitted in October with a decision promised mere months later. We expect the CPO to be approached by the club sometime in the same timescale and so all Chelsea Pitch Owners will need to be prepared and need to consider how to use their unique influence to best support the long-term future of our club.  At Stamford Bridge.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Known Unknowns at the New Stamford Bridge

So now things finally start happening. As has been widely reported, the club has invited local residents, season ticket holders and members to a consultation at Stamford Bridge on 30th June and the 1st and 2nd of July. The club has also distributed a beautifully packed leaflet telling The Story of Stamford Bridge which also starts to make a case, we think mostly directed to residents in the vicinity of Stamford Bridge, about the advantages that an expansion will bring to SW6. So the glacier that is the Chelsea FC stadium saga finally seems ready to lurch forward. Just to note that, for the purposes of this piece, we are taking the process at face value and disregarding the theory that this may be an elaborate exercise in belt-and-braces elimination.

So what do we know about the project? Not so much more than we did before but enough to be worth setting out. As usual it’s useful to analyse the different newspaper articles reporting the latest developments so that we can identify common themes. This is because a collection of simultaneous similar articles tend to stem from an organised club briefing. In this case the common elements are quite clear:

  • The club have concluded that there is no suitable site for a stadium in South West London apart from to build it at Stamford Bridge. This is despite the site, at 12 acres, being much smaller than the ideal 20 acres for a stadium of the planned size.
  • How big is the stadium planned to be? Most of the articles refer to a 60,000 capacity but one mentions ’20,000 extra spectators’ suggesting it might be up to 62,000. Another, in the Express, mentions a planned 67,000 capacity but that may just be a misprint.
  • Intriguingly, along with building over the railway lines in order to meet the planned capacity (as we expected) most of the articles refer to the need to ‘dig down’ in order to build a tier of the stadium below street level like at the Bernabeu. This is by no means an obvious solution and we discuss it further below.
  • All the articles expect the club to need to move away for at least two and probably three years while ‘the site is cleared in order to start again’. They also mention Twickenham or Wembley as temporary homes but they acknowledge difficulties with both options.
  • It is also briefly mentioned that the club has an option to continue to play at Stamford Bridge while building work on the stadium takes place. In this scenario the project would take four years and there would be an understandable impact on the capacity throughout. Just the fact this might be an option may well have implications and these are discussed below.
  • The suggestion in the papers is that the plans for the stadium are not yet finalised and that they won’t be until after the consultation. The fact that it is also stated that the stadium is ‘years from reality’ and some of the articles imply that it may take a decade before the club can play at the new stadium lend further weight to the fact that this will be a long slog. That said, one super-optimistic take on the situation expects a ‘formal [planning] application later this year’
  • The construction cost suggested in all of the stories is consistently quoted as around £500m. Obviously this is a huge amount but it’s interesting for several reasons and we will explore these further below. The estimate offered is that it would take 15 years to pay off the cost which would suggest an additional annual income of around £34m if the £500m figure is correct.
When The Story of Stamford Bridge leaflet arrived out of the blue we assumed, probably like everyone else, that it might offer genuine, detailed insight into the club’s stadium plans for the first time. Unfortunately it did not quite deliver on these hopes despite it being a beautifully packaged potted history of the Bridge. The intended audience was clearly not us stadium obsessives. However it did reveal one further significant element of the plans:
  • A key issue all along with expanding the stadium is getting up to an additional 20,000 fans in and out of the stadium without creating an unacceptable logjam on Fulham Road: the infamous ‘Egress’ problem. As revealed in The Story of Stamford Bridge, this time the club intends to provide a solution by resurrecting the idea of a dedicated pedestrian walkway from the north-east end of Fulham Broadway tube station, over the railway lines and directly into the north end of the stadium. It’s an ingenious and completely logical part-solution – but we’re sure we remember the concept being considered ‘unsafe’ at one point.
All of the above are fascinating glimpses of individual aspects of the likely plan – but there is little to tie everything together at present. That said, a few issues and questions stick out and are worthy of further examination.

  • Will the club and the genius architects Herzog and de Meuron who have reportedly been appointed to the project genuinely be able to find a way to build a superb new 60k+ stadium on an undersized plot without making serious compromises somewhere? It remains a huge challenge to make it work. Just to illustrate the problem the Allianz Arena stadium structure alone is, at around 12.6 acres, bigger than the entire Stamford Bridge site. 
  • Will the development therefore require the purchase of any surrounding land? We already know that the flats in the Shed End development are being bought by the club but will they also seek to buy up other neighbouring properties in order to increase the space for development? To do so would be both extremely tricky and massively expensive but could it be a prerequisite for the stadium development?
  • The idea of ‘digging down’ to create space for additional capacity is an idea which is often put forward by stadium design novices as a solution to the lack of space at Stamford Bridge, but it is really no use at all. This is because it is only a viable solution if a pitch has a lot of space around it (for example a track) otherwise spectators would just see the players playing football in a hole. Obviously this does not apply at the Bridge so we wondered why ‘digging down’ was being cited as part of the plan in all of the papers? Our only explanation is that the plans must involve bringing the level of the whole stadium down – the pitch and all of the stands. Why would the club do this? We can only think that this is not really a solution to the lack of space for a stadium but is instead a way to ensure that the taller stands in the new development do not impact on our neighbours’ ‘right to light’.
  • The newspapers stories all hint at a project which involves clearing the site and starting again and that appears to match the suggestion that the club will have to move elsewhere for up to three years. But the idea that if there are no suitable temporary homes that the club could choose to stay put at the Bridge while the redevelopment takes place around it is genuinely surprising and intriguing. Either there are different development plans depending on whether we can find a temporary home or not, or perhaps more likely, the proposed plans do not involve the realignment of either the pitch or of the stands. If so, perhaps the rumour of a re-clad West Stand remaining in place (perhaps with a steeper and larger lower tier ending below street level) with the other three stands being rebuilt has some substance.
  • The £500m project cost which is mentioned in all the newspapers is interesting on several levels. It is a huge amount of money for us mere mortals but it seems likely to us to be something of an underestimate. As a comparison, the Emirates Stadium cost an estimated £470m and that opened nine years ago. When we consider all the additional costs for the Stamford Bridge development – digging down, building over the railway, constructing walkways from Fulham Broadway and possibly West Brompton too – and the intervening nine years it’s hard to see how the overall cost would be only £30m more than the Ashburton Grove project. In the briefing last November the club estimated it might take 25 years to pay off the cost of the development. This time they estimated that it could take 15 years. Maybe they were closer to the truth the first time. 
  • How will the project be financed? Everyone is assuming that Roman will just dip into his fortune and offer us all his ultimate gift but how realistic is that? Let’s assume for a second that Roman isn’t just going to pick up the bill and that the stadium project will need to be financed some other way. Just what kind of impact is that going to have on the ongoing resources of the club?
  • Finally, where does the CPO fit into the plans? To date there has been no statement from the CPO board since the club announced the public consultation. That is, in itself, interesting and the board may choose not to comment at all until after the consultation has taken place. But we will hear from them in due course because quite simply the development cannot take place without the consent of the CPO. This consent will be required merely for the club to play away from Stamford Bridge for a period let alone for the development itself. And will the club seek to gain control of the freehold again? It’s certainly possible –especially if they might need to mortgage the land in order to raise money for the development. Such a move is certain to be controversial but we are sure the club would succeed this time – given the necessary safeguards of course. It would surely be a price worth paying, for even the most obstinate Chelsea Pitch Owners. 
Looking back at our blog on the subject from last November, what is surprising is how much of the ‘what next’ stuff it looks like we got right. It just took much longer than we expected (which may become a recurring theme in this project). But what should we expect from the next stage of the process? Will all our questions be answered at the consultation? Will the masterplan be laid out and will we get to inspect a shiny model? Of course we don’t know but on balance we suspect not. In fact we think some people may be disappointed with how much, or indeed how little, is revealed.

Looking at the consultation invitation itself, it states that “this stage of the consultation will focus at present on discussing the rationale and technical solutions for expansion with residents and match-going spectators”. Perhaps another little clue to the content can be found in the notes from a recent meeting between the club and Hammersmith & Fulham council which LBHF now helpfully publish on their website. The notes report that the meeting included “an update on progress of potential configuration for spectator accommodation” and it also outlined work “examining the feasibility of capacity expansion within the historic site boundaries”. We believe what we as supporters will get to see will probably be along similar lines. The consultation will surely reveal more than we know now but do we expect it to address all our questions? Highly unlikely we think. So all of us will need to make sure that the right questions and concerns and priorities are voiced and then fed into the consultation process. Because, be under no illusion, this will be one of the few opportunities to make our voices heard in shaping the new stadium of the club we love so do not pass up the opportunity.

The unquestionably vexed issue of how such a massive redevelopment would play out with residents is at the heart of this consultation. We can't imagine there will be silence on the part of locals and it could get very messy and drawn out indeed. As we have suggested, the club will likely make all sorts of expensive gestures towards the local infrastructure but this merely adds to the costs which we repeat, are likely to be significantly underestimated.

One final thought; it is ironic to hear Chelsea fans celebrating this potential development, possibly to involve enormous financial input from Mr Abramovich, even with other sources of finance. We presume that the disgraceful charges of "land-grabbing" and "theft" etc are now put to bed and that apologies will be issued?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Planning a Bridge of Size?

Maybe we’re reading things wrong but things on the stadium front may just be ready to start moving forwards again. The minutes from the CPO Board on 1st November mention that:
“Further contact between CPO and the representatives involved in the consultation has been made. There is no further information available currently, although it was reported that further announcements will be made shortly.”
This tallies with the previous statement of the CPO Board in which it was suggested that the consultants would return in the ‘autumn’ with ‘more concrete proposals based on the feedback received from this initial consultation’.
At this point it might be worth noting that we are slightly surprised that more hasn’t leaked out regarding the specifics of the consultation beyond what the CPO Board have already stated. Does this suggest that everyone involved has been super tight-lipped so far? Or perhaps that the consultation has been highly targeted rather than truly comprehensive? Probably the latter, we think, but that need not be a problem providing the right people are being consulted and the right questions are being asked. The previous statement from the CPO Board gives us confidence that this is the case.
From the club’s point of view, a few things have emerged recently which seems to clarify their position on the stadium issue. Before he left the club Ron Gourlay gave an interview for FCBusiness in which he outlined the reasons why the club needed a larger stadium. He said:
“We have to look at our fan base in five years’ time. Internationally we have one of the youngest fan bases. At Stamford Bridge we have one of the oldest. The problem is that we have 30,000 people coming into the stadium every week who are season ticket holders. In a 41,000 stadium you give 3,000 to the visitors, a family area of 3,000, so there are just 5,000 seats left. We have approximately 100,000 paying Chelsea club members and just 5,000 seats to offer them. We have a very young fan base who can’t get into the stadium and they are the future of this football club. We have to find a way to get them all in.”
Gourlay also managed to squeeze in an interview with Mihir Bose for Insideworldfootball.com. He stated:
“I’ve said it until I’m blue in the face, we’d love to stay here [i.e. Stamford Bridge]. This is the home, this is where we want to be, and this is the location that every other club would want to have.”
As for expanding Stamford Bridge he said, “We continue to look at it. We have a process in place at the moment where Mr Abramovich has put us into consultation with the shareholders, the community, just to gauge the feeling. If there was a regeneration of the area, what would they like to see? I’m not saying that we’re going to do it because we don’t know if that’s possible. The pitch owners still have a say. The pitch owners’ argument is they want to protect Stamford Bridge. So if we decide we stay at Stamford Bridge and whether it’s moving up to 41,000 or 60,000 then we’ll have the support of the pitch owners. Hey look, these guys invested in the club long before Ron Gourlay arrived [he arrived in 2004] so I’ve got to respect that and I do respect that.”
As to whether it is feasible Gourlay’s position is: “I think technically it’s a difficult one. I think you’ve got to come up with a plan that unlocks things technically and then we have to have the buy-in from the local community, because we’re part of the community. People forget that. The local community has thrived through this football club being here as well. It’s got to be right for everybody. If it’s right for everybody and we can give back into the community, we will get there.”
Now, in the past week, the club appear to have leaked further information about their plans by means of a private briefing with various members of the press just before the club’s latest accounts were released. As usual, it is fairly simple to spot that a flurry of press coverage is as a result of a club briefing rather than the usual press twaddle because each of the resulting stories take the same basic line and they all repeat key soundbites. That was certainly the case this time. So what can we confirm from the briefing?

  • That the club (or perhaps Roman himself) ‘are intent on staying at Stamford Bridge and developing it’ although ‘local authorities have drawn the club's attention to Old Oak Common, where Queen's Park Rangers are now planning a new ground, and the Olympic Stadium.’ Another piece states that the club ‘would prefer to stay as close as possible to its current Stamford Bridge site’ which is of course subtly different to ‘staying at Stamford Bridge and developing it’ but most of the papers agree what the club’s preference is now.
  • Even if the club agreed to start work on the project tomorrow they estimate that it would take up to seven years until they could start playing in a redeveloped stadium due to the length of time it will take to navigate planning issues and construction. This far from surprising. Arsenal took almost eight years from their initial announcement to the opening of the Emirates. Spurs new stadium has taken six years so far and will take at least nine to complete. And the Stamford Bridge development is likely to be even more controversial and difficult than either.
  • Stamford Bridge currently generates £1.5m-£2m less per match than Arsenal does which adds up to over £35m less a season in matchday revenue. The club may be managing the FFP landscape brilliantly but £35m-£40m a year is still a lot of cash (over seven years something around a quarter of a billion). And of course, based on Gourlay’s first statement above, the club sees a bigger stadium as the key that would increase the fanbase and unlock more long-term commercial income too.
  • The club has estimated that it would cost £20,000 per seat to raise the capacity to 60,000 which suggests an overall project cost of around £364m. This figure is significant (see below).
  • The club ‘admit that overhauling the Bridge does not make conventional business sense, with a listed building and a cemetery amid the impediments, though the level of the water table is not quite such a problem as had been thought’. Overall ‘the club estimate that it would take 25 years to make a profit out of the new seats’. The cost must be enormous, the obstacles even bigger so no wonder the plan doesn’t make business sense. And what is this listed building by the way? Oswald Stoll? The Artists’ Studios on Fulham Road? The East Stand, even? None of these are listed according to LBHF or English Heritage.
  • Twickenham is still seen as an option for temporary relocation while construction is underway but it would probably be for two seasons rather than one. There is no desire from the club to make Twickenham our permanent home. Good, although we do hope the club have a back-up plan.
  • The club believe that an increase in capacity would allow them to take steps to improve the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge through ‘experimenting with the sale of tickets’. This is not the place for a discussion on this point but the club would certainly have to offer some discounted tickets in order to sell out a 60,000 stadium against clubs like Hull and West Brom. But don’t expect cheaper tickets when we play the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool.
  • Again this is not for discussion here but it is also worth noting that, according to the briefing, the club have ‘sanctioned the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, to examine the idea of the League's sides playing a 39th game overseas’. The club apparently feel that ‘feel that the ambition to nurture overseas fans through a 39th game is acceptable.’ Hmm.
So what is the club telling us? Quite a lot as it happens.

Firstly, it now seems quite clear to us that the club is determined to redevelop Stamford Bridge - assuming this is technically feasible. Regular readers will know that CFCtruth has written extensively about the possibility of the club moving to a new location and we know these were live options at various points. Now, however, based on both the briefing and a lack of movement elsewhere (Earls Court in particular) these possibilities all seem to be firmly closed. The club has apparently moved on and perhaps the time has come for this blog to move on too (that is, of course, unless all the words coming from the club are an elaborate feint – but we are doing our best to rein in our innate scepticism).

Now we know some people view CFCtruth as a pro-move blog but this has always been incorrect. What we are is pro-club and pro-ambition but also very much anti- the misinformation that has led to the club missing out on certain superb opportunities. We have also tried to ensure that LBHF's activities and weasel words were laid out for all to see (particularly with Earl's Court) so that fans were able to apply pressure to the council if they chose to. But if the club can somehow make a redevelopment at the Bridge happen, with both the help and support of the new administration and the residents (still highly controversial) then no one will be happier than us. Chelsea’s location is unique in world football and the club would be mad to throw that away for a second-best option if the best possible option is achievable.

As noted above, we consider the ‘£20,000 per seat’ figure, the consequent £364m project cost and the one or two year construction period cited above to be significant. Looking back at the Future of Stamford Bridge report from 2012, it is stated that a 60,000 new build stadium would cost over £600m and would take three years to construct. So, based on that it seems clear that what is being considered by the club in these plans is not a new build on the Stamford Bridge site.

Another section of the Future of Stamford Bridge report also caught our eye.  

 The proposed costs for the redevelopment of the Matthew Harding and the Shed to increase the overall capacity of Stamford Bridge to 55,000 is estimated in the report at £275m and notably the cited cost per seat is around £20,000. Taking into account inflation since 2012 could the suggested £364m project cost be based on this template? Perhaps the additional cost would allow the project to squeeze a further 5,000 seats in somewhere to bring Stamford Bridge up to the magical 60,000 capacity which the briefing suggests the club remains firmly wedded to.

That said, we have heard vague rumours from elsewhere that the project might involve keeping the West Stand as it is and rebuilding each of the other three stands – the new East Stand being built over a decked over railway line. Could the suggested £364m project cost accommodate a new East Stand too? That is debatable but it would make sense financially for the club as even if a new East Stand would only add 2,000-2,500 to overall capacity (as the FoSB report suggests) there is huge potential for improved corporate facilities in the stand.

Whatever is eventually proposed, it seems certain that the club would have to acquire surrounding properties in order to accommodate, if not the stands themselves, but the necessary exit routes. This is bound to include a new exit north of Stamford Bridge along the route of the railway line which will require decking over the tracks and which will include a new “green north-south cycle route past the stadium”. And despite the initial club statement suggesting any development would be ‘within the existing historic site boundaries’ it may well also need to incorporate the Sir Oswald Stoll mansions too which would require a uniquely sensitive approach in order to succeed.  

So what’s going to happen next? Well, based on the CPO Board statement, it seems highly likely that the club will make one or more new announcements about the stadium relatively soon. However, we shouldn’t expect a full planning application just yet. Instead the club are much more likely to first announce their firm intention to redevelop Stamford Bridge (something along the lines of this statement by Tottenham) after which they will move into an intense period of pre-application consultation. This means formal discussions with the council and the LBHF planning department would begin (though we are sure that informal talks have already taken place) along with discussions with various statutory authorities and stakeholders such as the Mayor of London, English Heritage and Transport for London.

Additionally, and most exciting for us supporters, this period will almost certainly include extensive public consultations incorporating some kind of public exhibition of the club’s stadium redevelopment plans. No doubt we will also see the proposals resulting from the current consultation about the public space in Fulham Road and around the stadium. The actual planning application itself, assuming it will follow, may not happen for another year in order to give the club time to complete the various consultations and to weigh up the results.

Because now the club seem to have firmly tied their colours to the Stamford Bridge redevelopment mast, nothing about this project will happen quickly. There remain numerous obstacles in the way of a Stamford Bridge redevelopment and the long hard road ahead will prove extremely challenging and arduous. But the prize at the end of the road – perhaps as long as a decade in the future – promises to be one which every Chelsea fan can celebrate.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Earls Court & the Bridge: Campaign & Consultation

Ever since the unexpected victory for Labour in Hammersmith & Fulham back in May, this blog has been following the new council’s attempts to reshape the previously agreed Earls Court development. A scheme which has been lambasted far and wide as being fit only for absent millionaires and property spivs.

For the record, at this stage we are still not suggesting that Chelsea FC are any closer to building a stadium at Earls Court than they were on the day before the election. But the foundations underpinning the scheme are now seemingly under threat and it would be remiss of us to ignore these changes if there is even the slightest possibility that these events might eventually result in a new stadium option being opened up. So we will continue our watching brief.

So what is happening? Well your best bet it to read the whole of Dave Hill’s latest blog because it makes fascinating reading. But let’s pick out a few highlights:
The Save Earl’s Court campaign also believes that Labour’s shock victory in H&F in May’s local election may have large implications for the Earl’s Court Project as a whole. Most of the project area falls within its boundaries. The new administration is engaged in a review of all planning consents inherited from its radical Conservative predecessors in order to see what scope there might be for changing them.  
H&F is saying nothing about any conclusions of the review so far, but Save Earl’s Court contends that Labour’s win was “a game-changer”. Campaigner Linda Wade, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Tory-run K&C who represents the Earl’s Court ward, has argued that “the ground has fundamentally shifted” in a number of ways since the two borough’s approved Sir Terry Farrell’s masterplan back in 2012. She says the “essential interdependence” of the planning consents granted by the two boroughs make these “not deliverable” as a result.
This view is shared by Emma Dent Coad, who leads K&C’s opposition Labour group and is a member of its planning committee. She supports H&F’s review and says her group believes that if the H&F side of the project is halted or postponed “it would not be possible to proceed with the small part of the masterplan on our side of the border”. She also asks Capco to “await the outcome of the review before proceeding with any one part of the scheme”. There is a fear that the exhibition centre could be rendered unusable only for the “village” plans for the site to come unstuck, leaving EC1 and EC2 as white elephants. Save Earl’s Court has asked a barrister for an opinion on the interdependency issue.
Should the overall Earls Court scheme become ‘undeliverable’ in its current form this has huge implications, not least for the main developers CapCo. For one thing there would be severe financial consequences for Capital & Counties as a company. They would presumably start an immediate search for other politically acceptable ways to develop the site and, assuming this meant much more affordable housing, ways in which the project's profitability might be restored. This is where an ambitious, relatively cash rich partner desperate to find a suitable local site for development might suddenly appear very attractive to CapCo...

It is here, however, where the potential interests of Chelsea FC may well deviate from the interests of the campaigners fighting for the future of the Exhibition Centre. As we have highlighted beforethe club has previously expressed a willingness to incorporate "additional conference and exhibition space" on the site and that this “could facilitate regeneration and create a high quality flagship development, providing a gateway for London and meeting the objectives of the London Plan to provide a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction within the Opportunity Area." So it might just suit the ambitions of the club if the campaigners efforts are thwarted and the, by all accounts, ‘outdated’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ ‘Exhibition Centre is demolished as planned. Because this would open up the possibility of a truly outstanding alternative scheme incorporating a world class stadium and world class exhibition and conference facilities on the site.

Of course this is all highly speculative and even if it ever happened it is a very long way down the road. But just the fact that it remains a vague possibility at this stage is verging on miraculous. Here at CFCtruth we will continue to watch this space and await further developments.


Finally, just a word on the ongoing consultations on the future of Stamford Bridge. We at CFCtruth have largely chosen to stand back from the process for now because we still do not quite know what to make of it. Is it is a genuine attempt to find a way to develop the Bridge or something else? And we, for once, have chosen not to speculate. Despite what some sections of the stadium debate believe we are not inextricably wedded to the idea of a new stadium. Nothing would make us happier than if the club could find a workable solution to the Stamford Bridge predicament. Our doubts remain though. We do, however, welcome the fact that there is movement from the club at last. And based on the recent statement from the CPO Board it sounds like the consultation is being conducted with goodwill and an appropriate attention to detail. We look forward to the autumn when we are told to expect ‘more concrete proposals based on the feedback received from this initial consultation’. Be sure that we will comment at that point.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Stamford Bridge statement - a bit of analysis

CFC have announced that they are to begin a process of consultation on local needs and it was an interesting - and guarded - statement from the club yesterday. The suggestion that there is no presumption on the part of the club is an olive branch to locals but we all know that designs exist. The statement also suggests that the club are looking at the possibilities within the "existing boundaries" of the site which would appear to count out Oswald Stoll or other properties. We are still, therefore, left with the difficult physical notion of getting a larger stadium into the half pint pot that is the 11.5 acre site......

The issues of egress are key, of course, and the old nugget of roofing over the railway tracks along to West Brompton is back. This also raises the question of Brompton Cemetery who will have to be involved in that process since the Royal Park's managed land abuts the railway tracks. Interestingly, the Royal Parks are in the process of bidding for money for a substantial renovation and conservation project for the cemetery and CFC may well consider becoming
a generous donor. Or, conversely, from that project may emerge fierce opposition..it is Crown land after all that they are about to beautify.More on the project here; http://www.royalparks.org.uk/projects/brompton-cemetery-conservation-project

So we would appear to be at the start of a long road; the pre-planning consultation, unquestionably at the behest of the council who will no doubt be intensely interested in the reaction of local residents, is a sensible move. The costs that may emerge from the consultation should the opposition be intensive (we expect it will be) along with the overall build costs of the project, will determine the eventual outcome.

Our concern is that there is some cynicism afoot already which essentially proposes that the club is merely going through the process in order to prove an expansion of SB is NOT feasible, given costs and resident opposition. The club, ironically, is partly in its current position because of the behaviour of the previous council administration who successfully contributed to scuppering the vote in October 2011 which would have seen the club in a stronger position over EC. However, that is in the past but it is not unreasonable to believe that the new administration is nervous too. Access to West Brompton will probably require the co-operation of CapCo who are developing the Seagrave Road car park scheme, past which a walkway will run - but the new council is in the process of challenging the EC development (to which it is hostile) and the sale of West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates. That little triangle of animosity will be a curious one to watch and CFC are again in the middle of it.

We expect the club is genuinely trying to tease out the extent of any opposition to the idea of SB expansion. We hope fans will listen to the results. What is abundantly clear is that any development is now going to involve huge additional costs, substantial contributions to local projects and a hell of a lot of argument. The development will also take a great deal of time. If Roman has decided to commit the money and can find a sensible solution then we would all be happy that the club can remain at Stamford Bridge. We remain sceptical that it is possible with all that will be against it. But the club are trying and we look forward to the results of the study.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Earls Court & the election : early signs of movement

As we explained in our recent blog the recent shocking (to some) local election result in Hammersmith & Fulham seems set to have a knock-on effect on various planning issues in the borough. Today, insidehousing.co.uk are reporting that the new Labour administration are taking the first steps towards halting the hugely controversial existing £8bn Earls Court redevelopment scheme. The article (which can be viewed freely after registration) states that:
The council’s new leadership says it is prepared to take a financial hit to renegotiate developer Capital & Counties’ plans, under which 7,500 homes will be built on the site of the estates and the Earls Court exhibition centre.
Capital & Counties has paid the council £15 million - of which £10 million is understood to be refundable - a conditional land sale agreement has been signed and planning permission was granted in November. 
But Max Schmid, a Labour councillor, said: ‘Our policy is to stop the demolition of the council estates. We have begun consulting lawyers, and it is too early to say exactly where we stand.‘We are aware that money has changed hands and there will be consequences as a result of that.’
He said protecting the 761 homes on the estates from demolition would mean ‘starting [the planning process] from scratch’, and the council would seek a higher proportion of ‘genuinely affordable’ homes in any scheme that took place. Currently 20 per cent of the proposed homes would be affordable. Work on the scheme is yet to begin.
 There is scepticism in some quarters that the council will succeed.
However, Keith Jenkins, a consultant at Devonshires Solicitors who has been acting pro bono for the tenants, said the scheme could be overturned as council contracts cannot bind future administrations on issues of discretion. He added that all or part of the £10 million payment to the council - some of which has been spent - would have to be refunded.
For their part, the developers of the scheme Capco have just stated the following:
 ‘We look forward to working with the new administration.’
Time will tell if the new council will succeed in stopping or reshaping the development. If they don't it may well be because the compensation they would have to pay to Capco would be so high that it is unaffordable. But that is far from certain as things stand.

It should be said that whatever the outcome of the council's challenge to the current scheme, there is no indication at the moment that it would affect Chelsea FC's chances of incorporating a stadium on the site positively. As things stand, Earls Court remains an opportunity missed. But CFCtruth suggests that our readers all keep a close eye on developments. And no doubt the club will be doing the same.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Local election matters part 2

Local Election Matters Part 2

So we woke up on this dull, overcast day in London, and the ground has indeed shifted following yesterday's local elections. The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham is now controlled by Labour after they took 26 seats against the incumbent Conservatives' 20 seats. In a prescient blog back in December, we set out the potential consequences for Chelsea FC of a Labour victory (and also, we humbly note, predicted the election result precisely, but that's another matter). Does that blog still stand five months later, or are there other potential consequences to consider?

Earls Court
The blog noted that Labour were vehemently opposed to the Earls Court development in its current form. They have repeatedly spoken out against the demolition of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre and of uprooting of the communities from the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates. Nothing has changed here in terms of the views of the local Labour Party but the project has progressed procedurally since December and some Reserved Matters (i.e. detailed planning applications) have already been approved. Specifically, the area that the Exhibition Centre itself is built on (or 'Earls Court Village' as the developers would have us call it) has had approval. Does that mean the demolition of the Centre is now a fait accompli? Not quite. The newly elected council will surely not give up their fight for Earls Court Exhibition Centre just yet and the relationship between the developers, Capco, and the previous administration was so opaque that legal challenges may well be possible. We believe the fight has some distance to go yet.
Regarding the rest of the project, other Reserved Matters related to the rest of the site have still to be submitted let alone approved by the council. Although planning permission for the overall scheme has already been approved, the new complexion of council could force Capco to compromise on certain elements of the scheme. Certainly, it is hard to believe the residents of Gibbs Green and West Ken wouldn't – at the very least – be getting a much more advantageous package from the developers. And at most, their estates could remain untouched which, from Capco's point of view would change the economics of the scheme dramatically.
In that situation could Capco be tempted to return to the table to discuss alternative options with Chelsea? Certainly, as noted before, Capco have never been opposed in principle to the idea of a stadium on the site. The problem was always the Tory council. Would a Labour council view the situation differently – perhaps along the lines of Chelsea's plan to incorporate exhibition and conference facilities into a new stadium? Possibly, although the number of 'ifs' and 'maybes'in this scenario start to get unfeasibly long. Our strong suspicion is that Earls Court remains a ship that has sailed for Chelsea FC but watch this space just in case.

Stamford Bridge
The other situation to consider is the potential for Stamford Bridge to be redeveloped and whether the election may have impacted on the club's options. It is certainly true that, despite the former council's many (albeit insubstantial) protestations, they have never supported the club's ambitions. Indeed, it would not take a huge leap of imagination to think that they would be happy to see the back of the club and instead to see our prime piece of real estate being used for luxury housing instead. But that is the previous administration, what of the new one?
Well, little or nothing has been said publically by local Labour figures regarding the club and its ambitions for a bigger stadium. But it is a simple fact of history that every major development of Stamford Bridge up to and including Chelsea Village and the new West Stand has been approved and completed under a local Labour council. Counterintuitively, under the Conservative councils the club has just encountered obstructiveness and sometimes antagonism. We should also look at the support that both Arsenal and Spurs have had from their respective non-Conservative councils in recent years over their stadium ambitions and draw our own conclusions.
In our view, it is highly likely that the club have been in discussions with local Labour politicians for some time after coming to the obvious conclusion that they would never be able to negotiate with the local Tories. It would also explain why the club has been so quiet on the stadium front for the past couple of years. They were waiting for a council to be elected who they could talk constructively with. And now they have one.
So what now? Can we expect a rebuilt 60,000 Stamford Bridge to be announced within weeks (with the club decanted to Wembley for two years) as various rumours suggest? Obviously, we hope so but we are not holding our breath. Can we expect a more constructive relationship with the council and a more flexible approach to the question of compulsory purchase orders for properties around the existing site (with a consequent increased potential capacity)? Perhaps we now can.
If a redeveloped Stamford Bridge is the option the club now wishes to pursue then that does not remove all the deeply problematic obstacles in the way of that ambition (egress, the limited size of the site, the residents, neighbouring property owners, CPOs etc). But this morning we have woken up to find that one of the intractable problems the club faced in planning to expand the Bridge (an uncooperative local council) seems to have been removed and, as a result, some of those other obstacles listed above may be a little easier to resolve.
What happens next? There is still so much that we don't know but today has surely been a good day for the stadium ambitions of the club and, politically neutral though we are, we at CFCtruth welcome that.