AFC Wimbledon have announced plans to move to Plough Lane – the club’s spiritual home – on the site of the greyhound stadium.
This morning, the club announced their plan for moving Wimbledon's football team back to Merton after its predecessor, Wimbledon FC, left Plough Lane to ground-share with Crystal Palace in 1991.
It is believed the Plough Lane project, which the club believes could take "around 10 years" to complete, will cost somewhere in the region of £100m to build on the five hectare site.
For the last three years the club have been working with The Newridge Group, a property developer based in Morden Road, south Wimbledon.
Samuelson: “Fantastic next step in football club’s journey”
The proposals include building a stadium big enough to hold 12,000 fans and capable of increasing to 22,000.
The Dons propose to host "sporting and non-sporting events for the wider community" at Plough Lane, in a multi-purpose facility.
The plans will also include building housing and commercial facilities such as a hotel, with some of the profits from building those facilities going towards paying for building the new stadium.
Speaking exclusively to the Wimbledon Guardian, club chief executive Erik Samuelson said the next step will be buying the site before any detailed plans are produced.
Mr Samuelson also revealed the current proposals include sharing the ground with another sport, but said this was unlikely to include greyhound racing.
He said: "We don't know how long this will take but we will be more certain of timescales by the end of this calendar year.
"We have entered a competition with other bidders and now we hope to win it.
"This would be a fantastic next step in our journey. It's not the only site in Wimbledon but it is our preferred site by some distance.
"My personal preference would be not to share the stadium with a greyhound track but that would be a decision for the fans."
He added: "We are very grateful to Merton Council which has provided strong support for our aims and who have demonstrated over the last few months; it understands our needs and share our vision for the next big step in our growth.”
Merton Council: “We want a sporting legacy on the greyhound stadium site.”
The Dons’ vision for the site is in response to Merton Council's ‘call for sites’ – which requested those interested in developing a land site in the borough to set out their ideas in writing to the council.
The council will consider AFC Wimbledon's proposals and a rival bid to build a new "world-class" greyhound stadium (see below), but both bidders would need to buy the site from the stadium's current owners, the Greyhound Racing Association.
Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, said he welcomed the football club's plans for Plough Lane but warned they would face competition from other parties.
He said: "I am pleased for them. I think that is the right decision for them.
"We want a sporting legacy on the greyhound stadium site.
"There will be others who have other applications going in and I have to be mindful of that.
"We will welcome all applications for the site as long as it ends with a huge sporting legacy."
Milton Keynes Dons were formed after a Milton Keynes Stadium Consortium was given the go ahead to move Wimbledon FC 46.5 miles north by the Football Association in 2002 - a decision that shocked football and angered Dons fans.
In 2004, Wimbledon was dropped from the name and the new club became Milton Keynes Dons.
In response, in 2002, Dons fans formed a new phoenix club.
AFC Wimbledon, born on the fields of Wimbledon Common in 2002, has had a meteoric rise through the ranks of England’s football league system, surging from the ninth to the fourth tier in League Two in just nine seasons.
Rival plans to retain greyhound racing in new “world-class” Wimbledon Stadium
In May, ambitious plans were revealed to keep greyhound racing in Wimbledon by building a new £30m stadium in Plough Lane.
Irish businessman Paschal Taggart said he wants to build a new four-tier stadium with a capacity for 6,000 spectators.
In that submission to Merton Council, which was also published this morning, the Taggart-backed group argues Wimbledon Stadium is “the most famous and iconic greyhound racing venue in the United Kingdon, and must be retained.
“Our client has a strong, proven track record in the management and operation of greyhound stadium, to great success, and has a keen interest in acquiring the stadium to facilitate its redevelopment into the world’s leading venue for greyhound racing.”
Mr Taggart’s ambitious plans aim to bring in a new era for greyhound racing at a venue which is home to the sport’s biggest race, the Derby.
The plans include:
- a 1,500 capacity ground floor concourse with bars and direct access to track-side terraces;
- A carvery restaurant with 400 seats;
- A 700-person restaurant on the first and second floors;
- Eight luxury corporate suites.
Squash club: "We have not been consulted"
A third submission regarding Plough Lane's future was submitted by a resident squash club which has been located next to Wimbledon Stadium for the last 40 years.
Christophers Squash Club said they were “surprised and disappointed” to not have been directly consulted by Merton Council on the emerging plans for the site.
The not-for-profit fitness club has seven squash courts, a two-storied gym, dance studio, a sports injury clinic, and boasts 70,000 visitors a year and argue their facilities should be protected from developments which do not encourage sport.
In its submission to the council, the club said: “We want to protect a valuable community asset that meets the needs of many local people, provides enjoyment to thousands of people using the facilities and is a major contributor to the health and fitness of many who might not otherwise participate.
“We save both the council and the NHS considerable money as a consequence.
“We would like this recognised and protected in any proposals the council may determine for its preferred use of the site and we believe that the failure of this being recognised to date is a serious weakness and needs to be recitified as soon as possible.”
What happens next?
- Dec 13 - Feb 12, 2013: There will be a public consultation on the 'Call for Sites' submissions;
- The council's Future Merton team will begin "deliverability testing" to evaluate the viability of the various proposals;
- Spring 2013: Results of consultation to be published for public examination;
- Summer 2013: An independent examination of the proposed sites;
- Autumn 2013: A Merton Council cabinet meeting to discuss the council's conclusions and recommendations for Plough Lane and other sites across the borough.
- November 2013 (to be confirmed): A full council meeting at Merton Civic Centre where all councillors can have their say on the proposals to be adopted into the council's official planning policy (the Core Strategy);
- ???: Developers must submit formal applications to the council's planning committee, made of a cross-party selection of elected councillors who must look at the application in a quasi-judicial capacity.