Monday 20 February 2012

Why Boris v Ken Matters

Now seems as good a time as any to look forward to 4th May 2012, the day after the fourth London Mayoral Election. It's not rocket science to be able to guess that whoever wakes up in power that morning is going to have a critical influence on Chelsea's ongoing efforts to either develop Stamford Bridge or to build a new stadium. But just how supportive of Chelsea FC's ambitions can we expect either Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone to be (you will forgive us if we assume that Brian Paddick is not going to be not be elected this time)?


Of the two, Boris Johnson's thoughts on the potential redevelopment of the two possible sites for a new stadium - Battersea and Earls Court - are probably easier to gauge. For now, it will be 'more of the same'. He will continue to be publicly supportive of the three Conservative-led councils responsible for the sites (Wandsworth for Battersea and Hammersmith & Fulham/Kensington & Chelsea for Earls Court) in their complex and troubled redevelopment efforts. But privately, as we have said before, Boris would be quite content to see Chelsea installed at Earls Court. His position on the club moving to Battersea is not so clear cut but we believe that he would be open to that idea too providing the plans meet his expectations.

But what is Ken Livingstone's position? His views are all the more fascinating because they are anything but 'more of the same' - as we would expect be if Boris gets re-elected. If Ken becomes London Mayor on 3rd May then this would almost certainly be a colossal blow to the current plans for Earls Court and Battersea should they not have already worked their way through the planning process. Suddenly the Conservative-led efforts to redevelop the sites will have to take account of them being located in a city now led by someone with extensive planning powers and opposing political views and priorities.

So what are Ken's views on the sites in question? We found this video of an interview with him from about a year ago in which Ken makes clear that he is very supportive of a tube extension to Battersea/Nine Elms and seems to suggest that he would expect a large contribution from any developer (and from the US Embassy if he has his way) towards supporting the extension. The Northern Line link to the area is the key to the whole development in his eyes (and the lack of one is the major reason for the failure of previous redevelopment schemes). He also mentions that he will reimpose a requirement for 50% affordable housing in any scheme. Would that leave any room for a stadium? It's not clear. And of course, that interview was last year - well before REO collapsed - and there does not seem to be any clear statement from Livingstone on the development since then. For now, Ken's views on a possible move of Chelsea FC to Battersea will have to remain an open question.

His recorded views on the Earls Court scheme are, however, much clearer. Last July, Ken said the following in a statement on CapCo's Earls Court proposals:
"I cannot understand why decent homes where families have lived for years are being proposed for demolition along with successful local shops and businesses by Tory Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea with the backing of Tory Boris Johnson. There is no justification for tearing down the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre, the Lillie Road Depot, local shops and businesses or the 750 homes in the area. The plans are being driven by developers who want to make a profit rather than the interests of the local community." 
Well that seems fairly clear doesn't it? Not only does Ken want to protect the Gibbs Green and West Ken estates from the developers (which is perfectly understandable) but he also wants to 'save' the Exhibition Centre and the Lillie Bridge Depot too. Could he be persuaded that some kind of development scheme (presumably excluding the GG and WK estates but incorporating a stadium) could make sense for local people compared with what is there now? Possibly, but Chelsea would have to come up with a compelling plan which delivers both community facilities and affordable housing in Earls Court and would need to couple this with some very effective lobbying of the Livingstone administration. It would probably not hurt Chelsea's case that they have raised the prospect of some social housing on the Stamford Bridge site too (in their submission in response to the Seagrave Road planning proposals). Anyway, in light of Mr Livingstone's statement, it's not hard to understand why the councils are so keen to rush their plans through the planning process as quickly as possible - and their growing desperation to keep Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, regardless of what the business case for that is. As we alluded to in our last blog...the council are extremely keen to spend Chelsea's money for them....


The positive thing to remember is that, despite not being a fan himself, Ken Livingstone has a history of supporting London football clubs in their stadium ambitions. He was closely involved with helping the Emirates through the development process and "negotiated reduced social housing when the cost of the initial scheme became unviable". Equally he has made a number of positive statements about Spurs' stadium scheme including saying that the mayor’s office could 'reduce Section 106 financial contributions made by Tottenham Hotspur as part of the planning process to smooth the path for the club'. “I’m not saying the mayor’s office has got any money to give them,” said Mr Livingstone in June 2011. "but you could vary the terms of the planning permission and perhaps make less on the Section 106 agreement. That’s where the mayor’s got the flexibility.”

And, though it was a while ago, it is worth remembering that Chelsea were clearly trying to cultivate a good working relationship with Livingstone when he was last in office - with Peter Kenyon memorably jetting off to China in 2006 with Ken on an Olympic ambassadorial trip. The attempt to woo Ken was interestingly detailed in the Independent at the time but of course things have now moved on - as has Kenyon himself. We hope that Ron Gourlay and Bruce Buck have already taken the trouble to make discreet contact with Ken Livingstone by now just in case London chooses Red on 3rd May.


So how much would a Livingston victory impact on Chelsea's options? Our view is that impact would be significant but it would not necessarily be negative. For example, it is quite feasible that Ken would immediately refuse permission for the Earls Court development to proceed (assuming the plans have not already been rushed through the system in time) thus giving the club a chance to make its case for a development which incorporated a stadium on the site. Ken is, at heart, a practical politician who we believe could be persuaded of the case if he felt that it genuinely 'meets the needs of Londoners'.  .

So now as the days tick down to election day and the opinion polls seem ever closer, what is CFCTruth's advice to London-based Chelsea fans? We are strictly apolitical and so would not dare suggest who you should vote for on 3rd May. If nothing else, we know that most people have much more important reasons for voting one way or another than a football-related issue. But listen very carefully to any statements from the candidates on these questions in the run up to this election as all the indications we have received recently confirm that - whoever is elected as our new London Mayor - this whole issue is going to heat up significantly over the next few months...

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