Are Chelsea back in with a chance at Earl's Court?

Come on, Chelsea suits! Outsuit the Council suits and get us a stadium!

After being outbid for the Battersea Power Station site, it seemed all hope of a local move for Chelsea had gone. new reports suggest that might not be the case. How you ask? The Earl's Court and West Kensington Design Review Panel [the Panel] formed by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham [LBHF] and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea [RBKC], in a document found deep down in the bowels of the RBKC website*, dated 20 August 2012, have taken a rather dim view of the existing plan by Capital & Counties [CapCo].

With most reports on the subject saying that CapCo are close to making a final deal on the project, why am I bringing Chelsea into the discussion again? Easy. Even if the boroughs decide to go ahead with CapCo's plan, despite it's own panel's objections, there appear to be enough potential points of conflict to suggest that the project may run into problems. If that happens, Chelsea are and will be well-placed to step in with a stadium to help revive it. If you're unconvinced, a quote would probably help. From the report linked above,

To conclude, the Panel does not support the application in its current form and remains to be convinced that the Applicant's proposals are an acceptable scale and desirable form of development for this strategically important London site.

I don't want anyone to get their hopes up about this. All indicators point toward CapCo being successful with their plan, and a deal being agreed in the coming days and weeks, but there have to be doubts after this report. This is not a Battersea situation. We don't currently have a shot. It's just an interesting situation which could turn into a golden opportunity for Chelsea to pounce. If it happens the club would secure the stadium we need to be competitive with our matchday revenues just a stone's throw away from our current, and thus far only, home.

I'm going to be analysing the document more closely after the jump. If you're not interested in the technical stuff, you don't have to read it. You can either go about your business or just skip to the comments. : )

*Click the link in the grey box at the bottom of the linked page

As I said above, the Review Panel hasn't given a glowing review to CapCo's planned redevelopment of the Earl's Court site. In fact, given that it's a governmental document, and governmental documents tend to be very understated in their criticism, it's pretty darn close to "scathing." In its introductory comments, the panel expressed doubt over the redevelopment, saying,

The Panel remains concerned that the good intentions implicit in the overall concept of the masterplan are seriously compromised by the inappropriate scale of the development proposed, in order to create a development that entirely covers the existing railway infrastructure

Does that sound like a body giving a glowing recommendation for approval to you? It doesn't to me. It's not hard to imagine the disbelief of the panel members at the prospect of the proposal being accepted. When an official document reviewing your plan uses phrase like, "seriously compromised," you know you have problems.The Panel continue,

...whilst the concept has clarity in plan, when viewed in section the proposals have the character of a high density, and intense 'town centre' type, and are a considerable leap in scale and height from the predominantly low-rise residential surroundings. Consequently the Panel is very concerned with the impact of development on this scale, fully implemented, on the identity of this part of London...

Not only are the Panel concerned with the scale of the development, but also that the project would harm the boroughs by disrupting the the look and feel of the existing areas, both isolating its residents and creating an eyesore on the London skyline. Apart from aesthetic concerns, the Panel also have concerns with the ability to deliver the planned residences. Because the plan involves creating some raised decking to avoid existing rail lines, the Panel have concerns regarding the viability of the park spaces included in the plan.

Additionally, because large areas of the site require such decks to be built, the Panel believes they may never be finished. Because of that, the Panel says,

The Panel sees a risk of problems of viability may mean that the Northern part of the masterplan ultimately does not proceed, and that this would adversely affect any coherence in that is achieved in the scheme.

Essentially, the Panel sees such a risk of failure that they want CapCo to prove, and adjust the plan if necessary, that each phase of construction can stand on its own, independent of any future phases. That's yet another red flag for the redevelopment. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a confident panel wanting insurance in case of unforeseen circumstances. They are actively planning for the failure of the project.

The Panel have more concerns concerning the quality of life for residents, which are important aspects of the overall feeling about the project, but they're not really applicable to Chelsea. Much as I would like to analyse those aspects, this is a football blog, so I shouldn't. If you're really interested, you can read all about it in the report. What is Chelsea-related, however, is this,

The Panel believes that a significant cultural use on the site is important and that this can best be established with anchor use. The Panel recognises the difficulties of tying in a major user at this stage, but is of the view that the masterplan is insufficiently flexible to take advantage of possible opportunities.

This is right in our wheelhouse. Chelsea are a significant cultural attraction, and, as such, a new stadium would fill the important cultural role expected in the site. This would also suit the panel's view that an "anchor" attraction is the best option to bring culture to the redevelopment. The last sentence of that quote is hard not read as referring to Chelsea. Of course, there are other potential partners, but Chelsea have been the most visible for some time now; Filing objection to the development as recently as February.

In addition to their problems with the proposal, the Panel isn't exactly happy with CapCo over the way they've handled the project to this point, especially in relation to its recommendations.

It is worth noting that virtually none of the Panel's request for further information, drawings, etc. have been answered, and the Panel has not been kept abreast of changes made to the outline applications, if any, either before or after the applications were made.

Yeah, that's not a positive statement. Having such a poor relationship with the panel the councils convened specially to oversee your project is usually not an indicator of success. Wait, though. It gets worse.

ThePanel is disappointed that after meeting dating back to April 2011, following a briefing by the Boroughs in March 2011, so few of its comments and concerns appear to have been addressed. The benchmark scheme for Seagrave Road, for instance, has been approved despite the Panel's reservations, undermining confidence that the collective knowledge and experience is at risk of being disregarded for the main planning application sites.

Yikes. Not only is CapCo not reacting to the requests of the Panel, on a scale of around 18 months, but the Boroughs are allowing them to. The fact that the councils are ignoring the very real and serious concerns of the panel it convened to give it such warnings is pretty bad. It leads one to believe the Boroughs are neglecting their responsibilities with some other motive than ensuring a quality community redevelopment. Of course, they could just be being incompetent.

Above all, though, this shows why the club are so desperate to buy back the CPO shares. We really do need the ability to move quickly on something like this, and with so few options left in the area, it's not an area where we can fail again. At the risk of sparking a feud with the members of SayNoCPO, it should also show that LBHF has not been entirely honest with the fans.

They've made numerous vague references to fans of possibilities of ill-defined expansions of Stamford Bridge, despite the club laying out the impossibility of such an expansion, at least within a reasonable budget. Add to that the fact that they approved part of the CapCo plan despite strong objections of the Panel, and seem to be heading toward approving the rest in similar circumstances. Can we really trust the word of a council who will so blatantly ignore the advice of a body convened specifically to give them advice? I don't think so.

So, after all that, where does that leave Chelsea? On one hand, you'd have to think the real possibility of project failure would put us in a good place to jump on any such failure, but the fact that the Councils have thus far resisted our attempts to make a new stadium part of the development doesn't fill me with confidence that we'd be allowed to. No matter what happens, we need to be prepared for any eventuality in this chaotic situation. Even if it doesn't work out for us, it should be fun to watch, and I'll be reporting the Chelsea-related twists and turns here at We Ain't Got No History.

(Belated h/t to CFCTruth)

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