Dulwich Hamlet moved to their current stadium in 1992 following the demolition of the old, crumbling Champion Hill Stadium, on which the current Sainsbury’s supermarket was built. However the present stadium with three floors in the main stand has long been a massive overhead and financial drain on the club.
As part of the development a Section 106 Agreement was signed on 16th October 1990 between Southwark Council, J Sainsbury plc and Kings College London (the then freeholders) restricting use of the site to recreational, leisure or educational purposes.
The original lease was only for 20 years and it is undoubtedly the case the land represents a huge commercial opportunity if it could be built upon by property developers in an area seeing rapid gentrification. After all, many football clubs (particularly in London and not only at non-league level) have found themselves homeless (and in some cases merged or out of business) after falling victim to the ambitions of property developers.
Homebase Plan rejected – 2003
In 2003 a plan by the club (backed by supporters) to sell the ground for development into a Homebase store, with the club moving onto Greendales was rejected on the grounds that the Greendales was Metropolitan Open Land. It appears that as part of this the Council at the time was prepared to set aside the terms of the covenant in exchange for new Section 106 benefits, which developers have seen as possibly setting a precedent.
The failure of this scheme and the uncertainty it caused was the prime motivation behind the foundation of the Supporters’ Trust in 2003. Alot of early work went into this subject and the Trust published a document outlining possible future options for the stadium in 2005 (after a public consultation) and built on the momentum created to campaign for the ground to receive planning protection in the local authority plans.
Planning Designation – 2007
The lobbying campaign was successful. In 2007, the Southwark Plan included the designation of the football ground as ‘Other Open Space’ (OOS). Essentially, this means that development is not permitted unless equivalent facilities are provided within 400 metres of the site. Meanwhile, the Greendales site behind the ground (including the five-a-side pitches) continues to have a higher level of protection as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). The club has a lease for Greendales from the freeholder (Southwark Council) until 2015.
Change of Ground Freeholder – 2008
In 2008, the long standing freehold owners of the ground, Kings’ College sold the freehold to DHPD Ltd. for £1.2m. DHPD Ltd. was a newly formed company whose business is described in the Companies House listing as ‘development of building projects’.
It’s sole director was named as Eren Muduroglu, brother of Sami Muduroglu, former owner of Fisher Athletic who is believed to have been behind the unsuccessful attempt to develop flats on their Salter Road ground, since when Salter Road has become derelict, Fisher Athletic have ground shared with Dulwich, fallen down from the Conference, gone bust and been re-formed as Fisher FC in the Kent League.
The £1.2m to fund the purchase appears to have been borrowed from a company called Northfleet Ltd., based at a postal address in the Isle of Man.
DHPD Ltd. and Dulwich Hamlet Football Club Limited are separate companies although the football club’s owner, Nick McCormack, who is believed to be at least loosely connected with the ground owners. The football club leases the ground from DHPD Ltd. and it is understood that a new lease was signed to replace the one that expired in 2012, although it is not clear how long the lease is for.
In 2009 the owners appeared to attempt a sale of the ground for development using the agents Kings Sturge. Their document claimed that up to 400 apartments could be built on the site. However no sale followed from this.
Development Proposals – 2010/ 2011
Since then the Supporters’ Trust is aware of two schemes launched by the owners to develop Champion Hill themselves.
Firstly, a scheme to build 60 flats on the car park was developed in 2010 and details were explained to supporters and local residents at the time. After submitting formal applications to Southwark Council the scheme was withdrawn in November 2010 without explanation. Details of the scheme can be found on the planning pages of the Southwark Council website (ref 11-AP-2280).
The Supporters’ Trust supported this proposal in principle, as it preserved the integrity of the current ground and looked like a way of restoring the finances of the club as it was linked to a plan to revitalise the five-a-side pitches on Greendales.
The second scheme was to build a new stadium on the Greendale site behind the ground. This scheme was not discussed with or even mentioned to supporters and although the facilities were minimalist and below that formally required for Ryman league football, it was rejected by the council in February 2012, principally because building on Metropolitan Open Land would contravene council policies. Details of the scheme can be found on the planning pages of the Southwark Council website (ref 11-AP-2250).
The Supporters’ Trust opposed this proposal in principle, because (given the complete lack of consultation or explanation) it appeared to us that the plans provided faciliities that did not meet published criteria for playing football at the current level in the league pyramid, let alone anything higher.
Freeholders Enter Administration – May 2012 to February 2014
On May 31st 2012, DHPD Ltd. went into administration, although this only emerged after the new season had begun in August 2012. The administrators were a firm called Harris Lipman, based in North London and it is understood that they are seeking suitable companies to negotiate with in order to secure the best outcome for those to whom money is owed.
In February 2014, it emerged that the freehold of the ground had been bought by Hadley Property Group. Shortly afterwards, Hadley took day to control of the club and paid off a significant number of debts which had come very close to driving the club into bankruptcy. Hadley have made no secret that they are looking to redevelop some or all of the current ground, with the club being moved to more appropriate facilities nearby. They have publicly stated that giving the club a long term future is an integral part of their plans.
The Supporters’ Trust has begun discussions with Hadley to understand their plans and what role the Trust can play in the club’s future.
Community Asset Designation – September 2013
On 16th September 2013, Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust announced that the Champion Hill stadium, had been listed as an “Asset of Community Value” by Southwark Council. It is the first London football ground to be listed.
It follows an application in August in which the Trust asked the council to use new powers granted by the Localism Act. The listing lasts for five years and any owner of the property has to apply to the council before they can sell the freehold or a lease longer than 25 years. Community groups then have six weeks to decide whether they would like to express an interest in bidding for the property. If they do, the owner is not able to sell for six months, although they don’t have to sell to the community group.
However in early 2014 the Trust were informed that the ACV listing had been invalid because the site was in the hands of administrators when the designation was made. The Trust has the option to submit a new application in the future but has not done so for the time being until the situation is clearer.
Role of the Supporters’ Trust & Next Steps
As stated above the Supporters’ Trust will now seek to engage with Hadley Property Group to understand how best the future of the club at a secure ground can be delivered and what role the Trust can play in this.
The Trust was supported in its AVC application by Supporters’ Direct (the national umbrella body for Supporters’ Trusts) who have wide experience in these matters and will continue to draw on their resources and experience should the need arise. The Trust has also used its contacts with local councillors to keep them up to date with the situation.
The Trust continues to be ready to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Dulwich Hamlet has a secure, long term future in East Dulwich.