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Chelsea Pitch Owners approve plan to allow Chelsea FC to extend land-lease into next millenium

84.5% in favor of 999-year lease option!

stamford bridge consultation

Since the late 1800s, on a plot of land next to Counter’s Creek in Walham Green has stood an athletics ground called Stamford Bridge. A local businessman named Gus Mears thought it wise to purchase it in 1905, and after failing to convince Fulham Football Club to move there, decided to create his own club. Thus were born Chelsea Football Club (or “Football and Athletics Club” at the time), and the rest, as they say (and others deny), is history.

The Creek may be long gone, replaced by railroads, but the Bridge remains. The stadium itself has changed drastically since those early days, and thanks to the Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s approval and of course Abramovich’s millions, it will drastically change once again over the course of the next five years or so.

While the stadium itself is owned by the club, the freehold on which it stands is not. Since 1997, that land has belonged to Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) who granted Chelsea FC a 199-year lease after purchasing it with a loan from Chelsea FC themselves. The CPO has been paying that loan back diligently and will do so for many years to come (so buy some shares, become a part owner, and help them out!), but it was all done to secure Chelsea’s future and prevent property developers from moving in and taking our home away from underneath us.

Other than the land ownership, the other key function of the CPO is to own the name “Chelsea Football Club”, which the club use under license. The clever part of this arrangement is that no owner can simply pull up stakes and move the club elsewhere and still call it Chelsea Football Club. The CPO can approve a move of course, which is what presumably could’ve happened had the Battersea idea panned out ... but it didn’t since Chelsea were outbid by property developers. The club did not handle this situation very well with the CPO however, and their attempt to circumvent the voting process created some bad vibes. For many, the events of 2011 remain a fresh and timely reminder of the importance of the CPO.

Fortunately, Abramovich & Co have seemingly learned a few lessons since and the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge is a solution that has been welcomed by all. While the club’s current owners probably would prefer to actually own the land rather than lease it and not have to deal with the CPO at all — who also will have to sign the Section 106 agreement, which is part of the Council approval process, and will have to approve the club’s temporary move to Wembley or wherever else — the Pitch Owners took steps on Friday to make this arrangement a potentially less sticky one.

In an overwhelming majority, the CPO voted in favor of giving the club the option to extend the lease to 999 years, which is generally regarded as a “permanent” lease in the property development game. The lease has not been extended just yet, but the option will be put on the negotiating table between the CPO and the club. The CPO do not want to get in the way of the Bridge’s redevelopment, but they also want to fulfill the organization’s original mission to protect our history.

Hopefully everything works out amicably enough.

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