Back of the net! The result of last night’s planning committee meeting was never in doubt. But now Crystal Palace and their chairman Steve Parish have to seal a deal with Sainsbury’s. By our Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE
It was the one home win this season that Crystal Palace could guarantee.
There was no need to check with VAR to ensure all the players were on-side. Part-time Perry, Croydon’s Mayor, is a Selhurst Park season ticket-holder. The Labour lead on planning at the Town Hall, “Thirsty” Chris Clark, is an Eagles cheerleader. The local MP had been wined and dined by expensively hired lobbyists and plied with hundreds of pounds of free tickets for matches.
And the council planners – just as they had done four years before – had recommended that the planning committee should grant approval for Crystal Palace FC’s £100million new stand.
It was the only application on last night’s agenda for the committee, which was meeting for only the second time since mid-July.
The expansion of Selhurst Park was duly approved by councillors, getting a unanimous decision just as they had done in 2018.
“The academy and the football club is something south London should be proud of,” Palace chairman Steve Parish told the committee last night. No one among the planning officials, council lawyers or councillors dared interrupt him to advise that such was not a relevant consideration in the planning process.
“It’s a symbol of everything we are in south London,” Parish said.
“For too long it’s been run down. I’ve spent the last 12 years trying to improve it.”
There might have been a murmur at this point, as someone in the public gallery remembered Parish’s last visit to the Town Hall Chamber, in 2018, when he was given permission for the development then. And proceeded to do not much about it for six years…
“It’s a shame,” Parish said of the failure to act on the previous planning permission.
“We’ve finally got a Grade A facility at the academy and we want to have a Grade A facility at the stadium now, too.”
Fair enough, any reasonable person might suggest. But what of the chunk of the Sainsbury’s car park which Parish needs to purchase from the supermarket chain?
And what about the six houses on Wooderson Close, whose residents have been left in limbo for six years while Parish and the football club prevaricated over their scheme?
Parish, for his part, has met with the residents himself – some were invited to the ground ahead of Tuesday’s match against Wolves – and he conceded last night that he and the club would have to address some “urgent issues” with at least one of the ground’s neighbours.
Leila Ben-Hassel, a Labour councillor on the planning committee, described the mutual love-in with the applicants as “very robust deliberations”.
It was Ben-Hassel who moved the recommendation for approval “as it will deliver eco and community benefits to the area, including local jobs”, she said.
There’s at least £1million-worth of public infrastructure improvements tied up with the planning permission. “Looking forward to the new stand opening,” Councillor Hassel tweeted last night, together with a little eagle emoji. Which is nice.
For the residents of Wooderson Close, their continuing concern has been the council’s mishandling of the arrangements, specifically the Section 106 agreement attached to the planning permission under which Palace have to pay for the local infrastructure improvements, including the re-homing of the displaced residents.
For Les Parry, one of those Wooderson Close residents, it has been the remoteness of the council’s charmless director of planning, Heather Cheesbrough, that has been the cause of greatest angst over the past six years of development uncertainty.
This outlook gained belated support on Wednesday night from one of the South Norwood Labour councillors. For new readers joining at this point, they need to note that the council was under Labour control from 2014 to May of this year… “The council has treated South Norwood residents as an afterthought,” Councillor Christopher Herman told a meeting of full council.
“Those in Wooderson Close have been ignored,” said Herman, who earlier this year had ignored residents in Wooderson Close. “This cannot continue,” said the councillor who had helped to block residents from meetings to discuss the development.
For Perry, Herman’s Town Hall question was self-serving and deeply disingenuous. “The club was blocked by the director of planning and successive Labour cabinet members from meeting us,” Perry said.
Noting a significant improvement in contact between the club and residents since Palace hired a dedicated consultant to be there for the locals, Perry said today, “It’s this director that concerns us in any discussion in Section 106 agreements. You keep her away and make sure the people are involved.”
Under the plans approved last night, the expansion of the Main Stand will see the insertion of 8,225 new seats, while another 683 seats will be added to the corner of the Holmesdale Road and Arthur Wait stands. Accessible seating will be created in the Whitehorse Lane stand, reducing its capacity by 690. The overall capacity of Selhurst Park will be increased from 25,456 to 33,674.
The pitch will also be lengthened from 101 metres to 105 metres. The floodlights will be rearranged, with the removal of two of the existing masts. The TV gantry in the Aurthur Wait Stand will also be removed.
The Main Stand development will see the creation of space for retail and restaurants. The extra seating will include a large amount of corporate hospitality boxes.
The club must rehouse the residents of six houses close to the stadium, which it needs to demolish to extend the stadium’s footprint.
The club never signed off on its 2018 S106 agreement. Plenty will be watching to see whether they get around to doing so more promptly this time.
Last night, Parish told the committee that the club is at the “contract stage” with Sainsbury’s over the purchase of 22 spaces in the supermarket car park.
Parish told the meeting that it had been “a difficult negotiation”.
A report this week in New Civil Engineer described the supermarket as being “stubborn”. NCE quotes Parish as complaining that the club is “being held to ransom”, and saying, “What they’re asking for is ridiculous.”
But Parish told the planning committee that they hope to be breaking ground on the development in about a year.
Under the terms of the S106 agreement, once it is signed, Palace will have to give the residents of Wooderson Close 12 months’ notice before they can be moved out.
Read more: Lobbyist to meet councillors over Selhurst stadium proposals
Read more: Residents’ groups show red card to Palace’s £100m new stand
Read more: Residents blocked from meeting by football club’s lobbyists
- Click here to read the council’s Place Review Panel’s 2018 report on the new Selhurst Park stand proposals
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