The Trust and the Ground

Background

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 Greendale was rejected on the grounds that the Greendale 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 2002. 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 Greendale site behind the ground (including the astroturf pitches) continues to have a higher level of protection as Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). The Club had a lease for Greendale from the freeholder (Southwark Council) which expired in Janaury 2018 following the Council’s decision to not renew the lease.

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, although a residential development has now been built on the land. Fisher Athletic were forced into a ground share with Dulwich Hamlet and, going bust and been re-formed as Fisher FC.

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, 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.

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 are aware of two schemes launched by the owners to re-develop Champion Hill.

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 astro-turf pitches on Greendale.

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 Isthmian 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 facilities 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 were 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 Greendale Property Company but fronted 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 made no secret that they were looking to redevelop some or all of the current ground, with the Club being moved to more appropriate facilities nearby. They publicly stated that giving the Club a long term future was an integral part of their plans.

The Supporters’ Trust began discussions with Hadley to understand their plans and what role the Trust could play in the Club’s future. DHST actively engaged with representatives from Hadley, fellow supporters, local Councillors and others from the local community to influence the development of the proposals by working closely with their appointed architect and sourcing independent advice from Supporters Direct’s independent stadium-specialist architects. DHST also ensured that: the Club was considered as part of Southwark Council’s future plans for Greendale Fields by commenting (and encouraging our members to comment) on the Council’s proposals; that there was an improved engagement between the Council and Hadley to properly consider the option of a comprehensive plan for Champion Hill and Greendale Fields that could benefit local residents, the community (including supporters), and the football club; and actively championed, alongside the Club’s Football Committee and others, the value of the club as a genuine community asset that brings together and welcomes all sections of the community. DHST also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hadley to set out a common understanding about the key aspects of the development relevant to Dulwich Hamlet, and how it impacted on the sustainability of the Football Club and fan ownership.

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 was the first London football ground to be listed. 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.

This followed an application in August 2013 in which the Trust asked the Council to use new powers granted by the Localism Act. The listing would have lasted for five years and any owner of the property would have to apply to the Council before they could 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 did, the owner would not be able to sell for six months, although they don’t have to sell to the community group.

Hadley Planning Application – March 2016

In March 2016, Hadley Property Group submitted their planning application for the redevelopment of Champion Hill. This included a residential development on the current stadium with a new ground for the Football Club on the adjoining land at Greendale where the current astro-turf pitch is. The proposed redevelopment offer a new facility and the opportunity for the Club to be owned by its supporters and secure the Club’s future for years to come. DHST campaigned to secure these mutually reinforcing issues. In May 2016, the Supporters’ Trust polled their members as to whether the Trust should formally support the proposals for the new stadium. The result of the poll was an overwhelming 94% of members in favour. DHST informed a number of key changes to the stadium design.

Change from Hadley to Meadow – October 2016

In October 2016, Peter Bennison (then CEO of Hadley) left Hadley Property Group to form a new company, Meadow Residential LLP. As part of this change, the Champion Hill redevelopment moved across with Meadow Residential who took up managment of the planning application and the running of the football club. In December 2016, Meadow took the decision to refer the planning application to the Planning Inspectorate on the grounds of non-determination (by Southwark Council) within the standard time period. The planning application documents issued to the Planning Inspectorate included changes to the design of the stadium that DHST had worked on with Meadow. On the back of the poll of members to formally support the proposals, DHST campaigned for supporters to write to the Planning Inspectorate to support the proposals. In March 2017, a revised MoU was signed with Meadow Residential which which retained and built upon all the main sentiments of the original MOU.

Greendale Lease Renewal – October 2017

Since Hadley took over, DHST strongly advised them to discuss the existing lease on Greendale with Southwark Council and in particular, to secure a new lease. As the new stadium was partly located on the site of the existing astroturf pitch on Greendale, it formed a fundamental part of the proposals. Despite holding discussions with Southwark Council, Hadley and then Meadow were unable to secure a lease renewal. When Southwark Council made clear to DHFC that it was not going to renew the lease, Meadow instructed solicitors to act on behalf of DHFC Ltd. and appeal against the decision. This culminated in a hearing in which DHFC Ltd. lost its case and the right to a new lease on Greendale. This was not surprising given the poor management of Greendale by DHFC Ltd. and lack of importance placed on this aspect of the redevelopment.

Meadow withdraw planning appeals – November 2017-present

The Greendale lease decision was the catalyst for Meadow Residential to withdraw their planning appeals and kick off a series of actions which continue to leave the Football Club in a perilous state. In November 2017, Meadow announced that they had withdrawn all financial support and management for the Football Club since, in their opinion, there was no chance of them being able to build on Greendale now that the lease had not been renewed. Relations between Southwark Council and Meadow Residential appear to have broken down completely with libel writs being issued between the two parties and public statements denouncing each other’s actions.

The Football Club launched a campaign to raise funds to pay the wages and bills which was attracted much media attention and highlighted the change in Meadow’s approach to the Club. In December 2017, Meadow demanded that the Football Club sign a new licence to continue playing at Champion Hill or face being evicted. The Football Committee had for some time been pushing Meadow for a new licence since the previous one had expired but this was a very different approach and one seemingly intent on increasing pressure on the survival of the football club. DHST were party to the discussions around the signing of the new licence and advised that amendments should be made before signing however, under severe pressure from Meadow and facing eviction, DHFC Ltd. eventually signed a new licence under duress. Despite many calls for Meadow to sell the site to someone who cared about the Football Club they have so far resisted all bids and continue to make life as difficult as possible for the Club. DHST is committed to working with the Club to secure its sustainable survival.