Last week the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust (DHST) met with the current operators of Champion Hill, Meadow Residential LLP (Meadow). We requested this meeting to discuss the changes in the running of our football club, the current financial situation, the latest progress on the planning application to redevelop the ground (including the Section 106 protection) and plans for fan ownership. The following is an update on these various interlinked issues.
Ownership / Running of the Football Club and support for redevelopment of Champion Hill
In 2014, Greendale Property Company Limited, a joint venture between Hadley Property Group (HPG) and Meadow Partners LLP, purchased the freehold to Champion Hill and HPG took over the running of the Football Club. A planning application to redevelop Champion Hill for housing and provide the Football Club with a home in a new facility on adjacent land was submitted to Southwark Council in March 2016. DHST backs these plans. This follows a poll earlier this year of DHST members on whether to support the proposals. An unequivocal 94% of DHST members who responded to the poll are in support.
Throughout this time HPG acted as project managers, operating the Club and managing the planning application. The arrangement between HPG and Meadow Partners came to an end in October 2016. Meadow Residential LLP, a new venture between Meadow Partners and Peter Bennison (former Hadley Property Group CEO) has now taken over the running of the Club and managing of the planning application. As it stands Dulwich Hamlet Football Club Ltd (DHFC Ltd) is still owned by a majority shareholder, Nick McCormack. DHST understands that Meadow has an exclusive option to purchase Mr McCormack’s shareholding in full upon approval of the planning application, reflecting the equivalent provision in our MoU with HPG’s subsidiary, Hadley Development Management Limited (HDML).
Football Club operations
Supporters will have noticed a number of changes around the ground since the summer including the new outside bar, additional stewards and more turnstiles in use. Much of this has been instigated by the arrival of the Club’s General Manager, Chris Taylor, who is employed by Meadow. DHST have been working with Chris since the summer, to continue a dialogue that was taking place with HPG since 2014, to ensure that changes to the ground and match day experience are made in the best interests of supporters and for the long term benefit of the Club. We have also strongly encouraged Meadow to keep supporters up to date with proposed changes at the Club and the planning process.
Meadow remain committed to the MOU agreed with HDML last year, and have agreed to update and re-sign it. While we understand that a MOU is not a legally binding agreement, it shows a strong commitment to us working together to help secure the future of our club in East Dulwich.
Amendments to the ground design
DHST is fortunate to have professional expertise advising on planning matters and we’re pleased to say that we’ve had a positive response to addressing some of the concerns raised on the design of the new ground. These include: a simplified internal layout in the main building which makes better use of the space available and should improve the operation of the facilities, a larger Club shop, improved sanitary facilities, reduced prominence given to the gym overlooking the pitch in lieu of additional hospitality facilities and an increase in the size of the bar. We are pushing to ensure that these improvements form part of the application to be considered by the Council.
Latest position on the planning application
A planning application to redevelop Champion Hill for housing and provide the Football Club with a home in a new facility on adjacent land was submitted to Southwark Council in March 2016. As the standard time period has elapsed for the Council to make a decision on this application, the applicant has an option to appeal to the Planning Inspector on the grounds of non-determination. While this is often a last resort for applicants, given the time that has elapsed and the lack of progress in discussions with the Council, Meadow have indicated that they are minded to lodge an appeal.
S106 agreement (protection to existing ground)
We are aware that many supporters will have seen a recent application submitted to Southwark Council to vary the existing Section 106 legal agreement that was signed before the current ground was built. This Section 106 agreement relates to the current ground and surrounding land and includes a number protections, including that the land should only be used for recreational purposes.
DHST wrote to Southwark’s Planning Department regarding this application earlier in November. A copy of our letter to Southwark Planning is below and can also be found on the Council’s planning website.
“I write on behalf of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust with regard to application 16/AP/4051 pertaining to variation to the planning obligations for Champion Hill Stadium, engrossed and signed in 1990. The removal of these clauses must be handled with specific care to ensure the long term position of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. We understand that it is the applicant’s intention that these variations only become implementable following the signing of a new s106 agreement linked to application 16/AP/1232. However, if the obligations linked to the 1990 agreement are removed prior to a new ground being built, there is a significant risk to the club and recreational land use as the current ground could be lost to a different land use without adequate reprovision of a new stadium. As such, we would ask that additional wording be inserted to prevent the removal of these obligations until Practical Completion of a new stadium has been achieved. This would be in line with both the Council’s Strategic Policy 4 within Southwark’s Core Strategy, would support the broader ambitions of the London Plan and crucially, align to applicant’s phasing of development as applied for in 16/AP/1232 and noted in the Heads of Terms for the new s106 agreement (para 6.155 of the Planning Statement dated March 2016). If you wish to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
We note that an application to vary the S106 protection for the existing stadium has now been rejected by Southwark Council, and that this may also be the subject of an appeal. We recognise that in order to allow the redevelopment to happen, some form of variation to the existing S106 agreement on the ground would be needed. We believe such decisions should be taken alongside consideration of the main application to redevelop Champion Hill and Greendale Fields. We will continue to argue for any variation of these clauses to be handled with specific care to ensure protections for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club remain in place.
Lease on Greendale Fields
DHST will continue to press Southwark Council to ensure that the need to provide a long term sustainable home for a Dulwich Hamlet Football Club owned by the community is given proper consideration. This includes ensuring security of tenure in any new facility on Greendale Fields on terms that will allow the club to function effectively and grow in the future. This should be a lease of at least 99 years, similar to other community owned clubs around the country, such as Enfield Town and Wrexham.
Overall, and if carried out as proposed, DHST judge that the proposed redevelopment of Champion Hill offers the best chance to secure the long term sustainable future of Dulwich Hamlet Football Club in East Dulwich.