Thursday 7 August 2014

Earls Court & the Bridge: Campaign & Consultation

Ever since the unexpected victory for Labour in Hammersmith & Fulham back in May, this blog has been following the new council’s attempts to reshape the previously agreed Earls Court development. A scheme which has been lambasted far and wide as being fit only for absent millionaires and property spivs.

For the record, at this stage we are still not suggesting that Chelsea FC are any closer to building a stadium at Earls Court than they were on the day before the election. But the foundations underpinning the scheme are now seemingly under threat and it would be remiss of us to ignore these changes if there is even the slightest possibility that these events might eventually result in a new stadium option being opened up. So we will continue our watching brief.

So what is happening? Well your best bet it to read the whole of Dave Hill’s latest blog because it makes fascinating reading. But let’s pick out a few highlights:
The Save Earl’s Court campaign also believes that Labour’s shock victory in H&F in May’s local election may have large implications for the Earl’s Court Project as a whole. Most of the project area falls within its boundaries. The new administration is engaged in a review of all planning consents inherited from its radical Conservative predecessors in order to see what scope there might be for changing them.  
H&F is saying nothing about any conclusions of the review so far, but Save Earl’s Court contends that Labour’s win was “a game-changer”. Campaigner Linda Wade, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Tory-run K&C who represents the Earl’s Court ward, has argued that “the ground has fundamentally shifted” in a number of ways since the two borough’s approved Sir Terry Farrell’s masterplan back in 2012. She says the “essential interdependence” of the planning consents granted by the two boroughs make these “not deliverable” as a result.
This view is shared by Emma Dent Coad, who leads K&C’s opposition Labour group and is a member of its planning committee. She supports H&F’s review and says her group believes that if the H&F side of the project is halted or postponed “it would not be possible to proceed with the small part of the masterplan on our side of the border”. She also asks Capco to “await the outcome of the review before proceeding with any one part of the scheme”. There is a fear that the exhibition centre could be rendered unusable only for the “village” plans for the site to come unstuck, leaving EC1 and EC2 as white elephants. Save Earl’s Court has asked a barrister for an opinion on the interdependency issue.
Should the overall Earls Court scheme become ‘undeliverable’ in its current form this has huge implications, not least for the main developers CapCo. For one thing there would be severe financial consequences for Capital & Counties as a company. They would presumably start an immediate search for other politically acceptable ways to develop the site and, assuming this meant much more affordable housing, ways in which the project's profitability might be restored. This is where an ambitious, relatively cash rich partner desperate to find a suitable local site for development might suddenly appear very attractive to CapCo...

It is here, however, where the potential interests of Chelsea FC may well deviate from the interests of the campaigners fighting for the future of the Exhibition Centre. As we have highlighted beforethe club has previously expressed a willingness to incorporate "additional conference and exhibition space" on the site and that this “could facilitate regeneration and create a high quality flagship development, providing a gateway for London and meeting the objectives of the London Plan to provide a strategic leisure, cultural and visitor attraction within the Opportunity Area." So it might just suit the ambitions of the club if the campaigners efforts are thwarted and the, by all accounts, ‘outdated’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ ‘Exhibition Centre is demolished as planned. Because this would open up the possibility of a truly outstanding alternative scheme incorporating a world class stadium and world class exhibition and conference facilities on the site.

Of course this is all highly speculative and even if it ever happened it is a very long way down the road. But just the fact that it remains a vague possibility at this stage is verging on miraculous. Here at CFCtruth we will continue to watch this space and await further developments.


Finally, just a word on the ongoing consultations on the future of Stamford Bridge. We at CFCtruth have largely chosen to stand back from the process for now because we still do not quite know what to make of it. Is it is a genuine attempt to find a way to develop the Bridge or something else? And we, for once, have chosen not to speculate. Despite what some sections of the stadium debate believe we are not inextricably wedded to the idea of a new stadium. Nothing would make us happier than if the club could find a workable solution to the Stamford Bridge predicament. Our doubts remain though. We do, however, welcome the fact that there is movement from the club at last. And based on the recent statement from the CPO Board it sounds like the consultation is being conducted with goodwill and an appropriate attention to detail. We look forward to the autumn when we are told to expect ‘more concrete proposals based on the feedback received from this initial consultation’. Be sure that we will comment at that point.