It's been over six months since Chelsea submitted the full planning application to Hammersmith & Fulham Council for the rebuild of Stamford Bridge from the ground up. Not unexpectedly, it's been a quiet six months since — Chelsea did warn that the planning process will last beyond the end of the season — and even news around our supposed temporary move to Wembley had dried up.
There was a bit of news in that regard last week, with The Times reporting that Spurs were closing in on a deal to play at the national stadium for the duration of the 2017-18 season. Considering the previous hoopla around a potential groundshare, that this piece of news passed without much attention was perhaps already an indication of potential delays on Chelsea's end (i.e. no need for a groundshare if we don't actually need to move until 2018 instead of 2017). The Times report does hint at possible issues with Stamford Bridge being in a very highly congested residential area and the fact that we have to work with the railways as well (separately and in addition to all the stuff with H&F).
I can reveal that aspects of the project are now being redesigned, and a further public consultation will be required. This means delays.— The Spurs Report (@spurs_report) May 9, 2016
We've always had a general sense that these things could become problematic, but it would appear that the proposed decking over the surface rail lines might prove a very sticky issue indeed. In a "deep dive" by @spurs_report (never mind the name for a minute) a few crucial details are brought to the fore.
In its correspondence, Network Rail describes Chelsea's plan as a "major operational liability" citing maintenance and safety concerns, and says it is yet to give its approval.
"Due to the East Stand sitting directly above the railway the new structure represents a potential major operation liability for us in terms of safeguarding future access for inspection and maintenance requirements and similar (and the ongoing cost implications of this) and also to ensure that the appropriate railway standards are followed in this design to safeguard the safety of the railway and the travelling public."
The correspondence also reveals that changes are being made to the design of the eastern decking, and these changes will require a further public consultation phase.
"We understand design of the deck is undergoing significant revision due to recent planning objections relating to neighboring properties immediately east of the stadium, and that both the height and the horizontal extent of the deck are likely to change."
"We look forward to reviewing the amendments as they are prepared, via the APA (Asset Protection Agreement), and will write to you again following the further public consultation phase that will take place when these plans are formally submitted to the LPA (local planning authority)"
As Dan Levene points out in a response to @spurs_report's post, Network Rail seem to call any plan affecting their railways a "major operational liability", but the fact remains that the plans call for a major change to that section of rail, including work over "live" railway and covering it with a (load-bearing) structure that would house a giant stand and, on matchdays, tens of thousands of people.
At the least, if further public consultation is required due to a change in plans, the project timeline will be changed and extended. Chelsea had been slated to begin work on the railway (and tube) decking in October of this year. That's less than five months from now, which seems unrealistic if we have to repeat the last six months of bureaucratic processes.
Both @spurs_report and Dan Levene touch on several other potential sources of delay. There's the issue of the CPO (wouldn't Abramovich want to actually own the freehold before spending hundreds and hundreds of millions in building a structure on it?), there's a potential right of light issue with the North Stand, and there's even the (perhaps well overblown) issue of "nuclear trains".
Levene also revealed last week that matchday staff at Stamford Bridge have been basically told that there is no change in their jobs beyond next season, which would indicate that Chelsea aren't yet planning on moving out in 2017 as per the original construction timeline.
Signs certainly seem to be pointing towards a delay then. Which would hardly be surprising in a project of such tremendous complexity (not just in terms of design, but location and logistics as well) — or given our history with previous stadium improvements, for that matter — but would be somewhat dispiriting nonetheless.