Over the course of the last 12-18 months, the conversation about a future Chelsea stadium has shifted from relocation to redevelopment.
Where once we had hoped to buy and convert (among other prospective locations) the old Battersea Power Station into another iconic work of art, complete with smoke stacks (and possibly flying pigs), we're now seemingly set on trying to make the current site work. Again. Which is fantastic, considering that back in 1905, Chelsea were founded specifically with the intent to play football at Stamford Bridge. While the grounds have undergone massive evolution over the decades, multiple times even, the location has remained the same.
Last summer, Chelsea commissioned a new study about stadium expansion, despite previous efforts along those lines meeting strong resistance from the local council, residents, financiers, as well as claiming to have very little chance of complying with building codes and other such planning laws (e.g.: exit capacity on Fulham Road, rights-to-light, etc). Not to mention, Chelsea claimed that any expansion would have very little chance of providing a positive return-on-investment thanks to prohibitive costs and all the aforementioned obstacles. Unfortunately, I cannot find the official document that Chelsea released back in 2012 (our old links are broken* due to the official site's redesign), when expansion was last on the menu and was discarded in favor of buying a new site.
* thankfully, Bassman93 saved off the text, so at least we have that!
In any case, the expansion plan from last summer was given further weight a few months later, when it was revealed that Chelsea were exploring a temporary relocation to Twickenham while the Bridge would be redeveloped. It's unclear what the latest on that front actually may be, though that plan was meeting stiff resistance from local politicians and residents as well.
Despite that, if Great Friend of the Blog Dan Levene's (@BluesChronicle) report is to be believed, expansion plans have been simmering along just peachily in the background. The target capacity remains the previously announced 60,000 (an almost 50% increase on current capacity), which should put Chelsea's matchday revenue into a more competitive bracket when compared with other European powers.
"[The study announced in the summer] was initially expected to report back last September, but after the public relations disaster of the last attempt to convince fans that changes were necessary, eggshells have been well deployed underfoot this time [and] there seems to have been a concerted effort to get all the ducks in a line..."
"Sources close to the redevelopment project tell me fully fledged paper plans exist showing a new, improved Stamford Bridge on the existing site — though you won't hear that from the club itself. But I'm told there is a confidence within the club, following changes to planning legislation, that the requisite permissions can be secured within the season — perhaps even by the end of 2015."
But what about all the previous restrictions, both around Stamford Bridge and Twickenham?
"...the club has spent over a year meeting [with] local residents, businesses, influential bodies and community groups. [...] The hope is to get that rarest of things: a proposal that suits everyone. That will require the redevelopment of a whole stretch of Fulham Road, improved public transport access, and safeguards to ensure matchday exuberance is less likely to spill over into neighbouring homes and gardens."
"This is no mere facelift, but a full demolition and rebuilding job, and that will require the movement out of the Chelsea area for at least a season, probably two."
"...much consultation has been conducted in [the Twickenham] area too and, coupled with a significant recent change in the political climate in that locality, there is a belief that what was once seen as impossible may be made to happen; maybe with a spreading of the impact across more than just the one stadium venue."
Previous expansion plans hinged on being able to take advantage and cover the railway lines immediately east of the stadium, and I'd assume any new plan would have incorporate that idea. The increased emphasis on the redevelopment of Fulham Road (which sounds beyond just general transportation improvements) could mean that we're looking to make a deal with the residences immediately south, too. And maybe to the west as well? Tough I was pretty sure there were some listed building in this area, which was one of the sticking points of previous studies. Adding exits to the north towards Seagrave Road was floated at one point, too — in fact, they were necessary to have any hope of meeting the increased exit capacity that's needed with 60,000 fans — and are probably being explored again as well. Or how about knocking those silly hotels down, if that's an option?
The last line also brings up an intriguing temporary option: lightening the load on Twickenham (which seemed to be the locals' major problem with the whole thing) by splitting the impact across more than one stadium. Wembley, for example, is already a second home, no?
The report doesn't include any specific plans for what the stadium might look like after expansion — we did supposedly commission the architects behind the Allianz Arena and the Bird's Nest to start looking into it back in January — but it sounds like the wheels are certainly in motion. Exciting!