Stadium update from club CEO

In light of the continuing interest and concerns of fans about the recent decision by the Mayor of London to call in our planning application, the Dons Trust Board has requested that Erik Samuelson’s programme page for the Portsmouth game be published in advance of tomorrow’s match.

In addition, members of the DT Board will be available before the game to discuss questions from supporters at the Dons Trust kiosk on Jack Goodchild Way.

Below is the full article that will appear in tomorrow’s matchday programme.

Despite last week’s decision by the Mayor of London to call in the planning application for the new stadium, Chief Executive Erik Samuelson remains confident that it will still be approved.

There is really only one thing to talk about today, and that is the Mayor of London’s decision to call in our planning application and, to the extent that we currently understand it, what happens next. I am pretty sure you know the background, but here it is in summary.

Our joint application with Galliard Homes for a mixed-use development on the Plough Lane site was submitted to Merton Council late in 2014. It went through two rounds of public consultation, during which over 7,000 people commented, with over 80 per cent of respondents writing in favour of the application. In the areas nearest the stadium where objections were highest, there was only one where the number of objectors exceeded the number of people writing in support.

In light of the feedback, a significant number of changes were made to the application, including the addition of a childcare facility and a cafe area just off the pedestrian street that runs adjacent to the east stand. These last changes were made in response to comments by Greater London Authority (GLA) officers.

The consultations and design changes took a considerable amount of time, and well over a year passed before Merton’s Planning Committee were able to consider the application. As you probably all know, the application was approved unanimously in a rare example of cross-party support for an initiative.

Because the site sits on the boundary of the two boroughs, there was close liaison between Merton and Wandsworth councils throughout the process, and Wandsworth made a submission to the consultation process. Even though Wandsworth’s officers recommended that their borough make no objection to the application, their planning committee objected and also wrote to the Mayor to ask for the application to be called in.

Following the vote by Merton’s planning committee, Galliard, the club and Merton developed a draft Section 106 agreement (covering, among other things, changes to local infrastructure) to underpin the application, and this was submitted for the Mayor’s consideration at a meeting early last week. At this meeting, the GLA officers recommended that the planning decision should remain with Merton, but the Mayor – as is his right – decided to call in the application. This means that the GLA, rather than Merton, will now make the decision about the application.

Having read this far, I think you will not be surprised to hear that we are puzzled as to how this decision could come about. At the time of writing, we don’t fully understand the concerns that led to it, nor do we yet know the precise process and timing of the review by the GLA.

The current Mayor could proceed with a review and complete it before the Mayoral election on 5 May. It seems more likely, however (although this is speculation on our part), that it will be a newly elected Mayor who will oversee the decision. If so, that is unlikely to be before July.

In other words, as things stand it looks as though it will be another four months before we have a definitive decision. There are two things I would like to say about this.

First, the reason I have described the process in some detail is to demonstrate just how thorough it has been and, in the light of that, why we are confident that our application will succeed when it is considered by the Mayor.

Second, we’ve reviewed our timetable, and, provided we get a decision in July, we are satisfied that we can still achieve an opening date of season 2018/19 for a new stadium.

It is natural for all of us to feel frustrated at this turn of events, and it is clear from one of my rare visits to forums and social media that many of our fans are angry. However, one of the features that has, in my view, distinguished our campaign is that we have maintained a positive attitude and avoided getting drawn into arguments and disputes.

We believe that this is the right way to continue, and so, on behalf of the Football Club Board and the Dons Trust Board, I urge you all to wait for our guidance about how best you can help to ensure success next time around.

To get where we are today we’ve overcome much bigger hurdles than this one, and I remain very optimistic that we will succeed.