KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on a planning committee outcome which was never in any doubt
This was one fixture in the 2017-2018 season which Crystal Palace Football Club were never going to lose.
Croydon Council’s planning committee last night voted unanimously in favour of Palace’s £100million proposal to expand their home ground at Selhurst Park. The matter was such a foregone conclusion that Steve Parish, the club chairman, didn’t even bother to hang around in the Town Hall to witness the vote.
Parish had given what has been described as an “emotional” presentation to the committee. “This is a lot more than just a planning application to me,” Parish said. To be fair, though, no one thought the businessman, who is reckoned to be worth £45million, was at the Town Hall to get a new conservatory built.
Just a fortnight before local elections, the local politicians on the planning committee were hardly in the mood to risk the anger of the massed ranks of Eagles fans. In that respect, in terms of the timing of their application, the football club’s advisers had played a blinder.
The planning officials in Fisher’s Folly had delivered a report recommending approval, too, and all-round there was little to object to the new stand, with its money-spinning executive suites, and an increase in ground capacity of 8,000, outside public transport concerns and the small matter of the people living in eight council-owned houses which will need to be demolished.
That latter issue was resolved just before the application for the stand was considered, with a scheme which will see nine council flats built in two- to four-storey blocks at the rear of the Holmesdale Road Stand to replace those lost as a result of the Main Stand expansion. They will have views to the South Downs, the committee was informed, though there will be no sneaky peaks into the ground from the flats.
The transport issues, to avoid increased congestion on match days, have not been resolved entirely. An innovative scheme to combine rail tickets with ground admission and season tickets to the club has fallen through.
But given the issues which Croydon Council’s chief executive and her planning department have had with other major developments in the borough lately (don’t mention Westfield, please), Palace were really pushing at an open door last night. A nine-figure investment in the north of the borough was always going to win through.
CEO Jo Negrini wheeled out one of her appointees, Shifa Mustafa, Croydon’s “executive director of place”, to claim the credit this time, calling the decision “great news” for the borough, and pin-pointing what was always the real sticking point: people’s homes.
“The council remains committed to working closely with the club to ensure suitable accommodation is found for all residents of Wooderson Close whose homes are affected by the club’s plans, and will ensure the impacts of the development are properly mitigated,” Mustafa said in a council statement which had been drafted hours before the cross-party planning committee raised their hands in approval.
For once this season, it was someone other than Wilf Zaha who proved to be Palace’s match-winner.
Talking of his 40 years as a Palace fan, Parish rightly highlighted how, in the three decades of the Premier League era, Selhurst Park had been left behind. And as with all things Premier League, this development, he admitted, was all about money.
“Twenty years ago, if you went to watch football, you wouldn’t see much difference between going to Arsenal and going to Selhurst Park,” he said, suggesting that he had not managed to get tickets for games at Highbury very often.
“We now want to increase match-day revenues. It is the main thing holding us back.
“It’s about generating match-day revenue, that’s the reason the club has been a yo-yo club in the last few years.
“This is to ensure the long-term future of the football club,” said Parish, who after having his speech cut-off mid-flow – he’d over-lasted the allotted three minutes – went off to look at ways to ensure the club’s short-term future with a management team and playing squad which could start next season without giving all their rivals a seven-match lead.
Apparently, Arsene Wenger’s available…
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