By Toby Porter and Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
A scheme to build 219 homes and a new stadium for Dulwich Hamlet Football Club was approved by planners on Monday July 27.
Developers Meadow Residential have secured planning permission for their scheme to build on the existing Champion Hill pitch and move the club to the next door Green Dale open space.
A new 4,000-capacity stadium would infringe on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) – a factor which had stymied a similar 1999 scheme by Sainsbury’s which was blocked after a public inquiry.
This scheme could also be called in to such a hearing because of the precedent it sets, delaying the development by several months.
A club statement this morning said: “The Club are delighted to announce that the Southwark Council Planning Committee has approved our joint planning application with Meadow Residential. The Result secures the clubs home and future in East Dulwich for the next 125 years.”
Manager Gavin Rose added this morning: “Everyone at the club has worked hard to do this. In 125 years we won’t be around but at least we’ve got peace of mind that the football club will be around.
“That’s never been certain over the last few years – whether the club is going to fold. It’s been under threat ever since I’ve been here.
“It’s something we have got on with and normalised it but when you step away most clubs don’t operate with that kind of threat.
“People here have been through hardship and it is great for them. There have been so many highs and lows for the club – and worry. Hopefully now they can just enjoy the football.
“It’s been a long journey to get things looking up. This will serve the community – not just the first team but down to kids who are aged five. It’s not just football – we’ll be able to encompass other sports. It’s massive for the club but more so the community.
“Everyone knows we’re a community-based club and it will give us a chance for a lot of outreach – and in an area that needs it.”
Nearly 2,000 people have commented on the application, which planning officers have recommended for approval – 1,285 in support and 553 to object.
The report on the plans stated the “application should only be granted on condition that children from the local state schools, including theirs, have reasonable, free and regular access during term-time to the football pitch and other sports facilities, including the gym”.
But a leaflet that was circulated locally claimed the club intends to charge schools £45,000 per year to access the Astroturf.
Friends of Greendale has denied being behind the leaflet, but said the club’s business plan references the figure.
Responding to the leaflet in a tweet, DHFC said: “We’re disappointed to inform all that local groups have been spreading misinformation about the club in the lead-up to our vital planning date on [July 27].
“Leaflets have been circulated stating we’re charging local schools half a million pounds over 10 years. A lie.
“Unbelievable? You bet. This is categorically false. We’re providing £500,000 of sporting provision for both charter schools over the next 10 years.
“We spoke to both charter schools and made clear our intention to provide free sporting provisions from day one.”
The club then quoted the part of planning report on “free and regular” access to local state schools.
It continued: “It’s deeply upsetting that people in our local community are so hell-bent on the destruction of the club, they’d openly lie to the public in order to stop the club securing its future for the next 125 years.”
DHFC said it secured the council’s agreement to not charge the schools “and provide free access subsidised by the club”.
“So [the] number is on the plan but the school doesn’t pay,” it said.
Responding to the statement, Friends of Green Dale referred to the business plan, and also the community use agreement, which states the club will be charging other state schools £36 per hour.
A spokesman said: “DHFC has been informed that the leaflet was not produced by the Friends of Green Dale.
“Friends of Green Dale has seen the club’s denial with regard to charging the charter schools for access to the proposed stadium.
“It is noted that the business plan submitted to Southwark planning portal includes charges against the charter school of £40,000 to £50,000 per annum.
“The leaflet correctly cites the charges submitted to the planning portal by DHFC.
“Equally concerning is the club’s community use agreement that states the club will be charging other state schools £36 per hour.
“This is unfair as the club is being leased the Astroturf area for free.
“Our main focus is protecting the use of the much-loved Astroturf which is used by all our community.
“Our community, including DHFC fans, are very angry with the club.
“It is a shame that the club fails to recognise the harm to our community if its open and free use of the Astroturf is denied.”
At the five-hour meeting on Monday night, two members voted against, one abstained, and five voted for a the plans, which include the 4,000-capacity stadium and clubhouse, 219 homes, a kickabout area, and 3G pitch.
The club will also be given a 125-year lease for peppercorn rent.
Planning officers recommended approval on the grounds that the scheme would help “secure the club’s long-term future, which is regarded by many as a community asset”, while it has a “reputation for promoting equality and the elimination of discrimination”.
Supporting the future of the club is also priority for the council, and officers said, “on balance”, the benefits outweighed the harm caused.
Objector Phil Addison, from Friends of Green Dale, said the group “wants the club to thrive”, but argued that the land, which has been described has “derelict”, is now “thriving” and “much more welcoming” after interventions from the council, and was especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic for locals.
“Taking away our Astroturf is harmful to our community,” he said, adding that 81 per cent of people in the area live in flats, while there are “at least 2,000 households”.
Chairman of the club, Ben Clasper, said approval of the application was “critical” to DHFC’s survival.
“This decision is critical for the club and the thousands of supporters that have fought for years to get to this moment,” he added.
“Dulwich Hamlet has been part of Southwark life for 127 years, the last 110 of those have been at Champion Hill, and our first stadium was on the exact site of the Astroturf so this plan really returns us home.
“The current stadium is in a very poor condition, the club is now owned by fans who can’t afford the upkeep, let alone full renovation.
“Without a new stadium we shall cease to exist in our current form.”
On community access he said “the new multi-use area was sufficient for the numbers we were observing [using the Astroturf]”.
Mr Clasper also said the plans for the Astroturf was “not a revenue exercise”, while they have agreed that community use of the pitch will be subsidised.
Planners said the club could use the MOL on “very special circumstances” grounds, but Friends of Green Dale, along with other community groups, disputed this, while Mr Addison said the report failed to seek an alternative site.
Sporting use is also one of the uses that is allowable for MOL.
Champion Hill ward Cllr Peter John likened the proposals to building a swimming pool and tennis court in his neighbour’s garden.
He said: “If I came before this committee having just purchased a house in Southwark and told you that I had amazing plans to increase the value of my house by demolishing it, rebuilding across my entire plot, and then building a swimming pool and tennis court in my neighbour’s garden, which by the way I didn’t own, and told you it would be ok as I would put a massive screen around the pool and tennis court when I was using it, but would take the screen down when I wasn’t and would charge my neighbours commercial rates to use the pool and tennis court in their garden, you would rightly think I was absurd and that my application was absurd.
“But chair, in many ways, that’s the application you’ve been asked to consider tonight.”
Cllr John, also council leader, said he fought for 18 years to get Green Dale back under public control as MOL, and asked that it remain that way.
He said he wasn’t “anti-development” or “anti-DHFC”, but said the application was a “step too far” as it moves the stadium onto MOL.
He went on: “There is a world of difference between a freely accessible Astroturf as it is now, and a stadium which is only available for commercial hire and which is subject to the regular erection of screens.
“If we’ve learned anything in the last five months, it’s the absolute value of publicly available and accessible green space. Green Dale has provided a haven for many different residents from many different backgrounds”.
Ward Cllr Sarah King said what Champion Hill doesn’t have a major park “that people can go to and do large scale informal exercise”.
“Green Dale is an area which has blossomed since the council has invested in it and that’s what’s at stake at the moment.
“Unfortunately, what we have today is an application where the club and the community have been pitted against each other,” she said.
The meeting became heated when chair Councillor Martin Seaton and ward councillors clashed over acceptable use of MOL.
The chair said the proposed use was “acceptable […] and complies with policy” – but Cllr John said it was “an opinion not fact”, while Cllr King said it was an “assessment […] not a factual statement”.
Cllr Seaton said: “Actually, it’s an assessment on our policy and also in compliance with the London Plan.”
He added that it’s a “recognised accepted use”, comparing it to tennis courts in Burgess Park, which the public has to pay for.
He said he wanted to make sure people weren’t arguing about what was “blindingly obvious”.
“While I’m recognising you’ve taken a position, your position at the moment seems inexplicable, [what] you are referring to are policies which we’ve all signed up to,” he said, adding the MOL use was “not an interpretation” and is “written in stone”.
Cllr Seaton said their decision to argue against new homes, of which 27.3 per cent will be socially rented, was “astounding”, while Cllr John said he would have preferred more council homes.
Cllr John later tried to call a point of order, which was refused, over the chair “misrepresenting” the ward councillors.
Cllr Jason Ochere voted against the application mainly because it was unclear how many comments of support were local. He said some were from as far as Liverpool and could have been input more than once.
Cllr Cleo Soanes abstained over concerns about biodiversity, while Cllr Adele Morris voted against the application over use of MOL.
Cllr Darren Merrill, Cllr Barrie Hargrove, Cllr Martin Seaton, Cllr Damian O’Brien, and Cllr Kath Whittam voted in favour on community benefit grounds, as well as the addition of new homes for the borough.
Cllr Hargrove said the community work the club has done is “magnificent”.
“One of the reasons why people all over the country are commenting on this club is because they are known all over the country.
“They are so interesting and modern about their football […] no one could be failed to be impressed [with the work they do],” he said.
The application had two additional conditions attached to it, which mean that there will be no occupation “beyond the 99th dwelling” until all water network upgrades required to serve the development are completed, and that opening hours of the stadium will not be outside 8am to 10.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 8am to 8.30pm on Sunday.
Cllr Johnson Situ, Southwark’s cabinet member for development, said: “This has been a difficult application and we respect the decision made by the planning committee who have had to consider a range of arguments for and against the project.
“The development will provide a number of positive benefits such as new housing, including the required 35 percent affordable housing, and guaranteeing the future of this much loved football club.
“However, we recognise there are very strong views on both sides of this decision and I can assure local residents that the council will continue to work with the club and developers to ensure Dulwich Hamlet’s future on this site as well as making sure Greendale continues to be an accessible resource for local residents.
“I hope and expect Meadow to work with the local community and make good on the promises they have made in this application.”
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