Fire. Brimstone. FOUR year E.X.I.L.E. This is a sensational headline. Well done, Headline Writer Person.
Oliver Todd’s actual article is fairly less sensational, and if you’ve been paying attention, it contains information that should not surprise. If you haven’t, here’s where we stand with the new stadium.
According to the optimistic end of the original proposal, Chelsea were supposed to start work on the new [Your Corporation’s Name Here Arena] at Stamford Bridge last summer (2016), move out this summer (2017) for 2-3 years, and start playing in the new cathedral of football in 2020. Fair to say, none of that is happening just yet.
Additional rounds of planning were required, both to improve certain aspects of the original proposal (bats and birds and water and various other green initiatives) as well as to finalize the Section 106 grants for community improvement. Fulham & Hammersmith Council only approved the plans earlier this year in January, with the Mayor of London following suit a couple months later. But, not all the planning is done.
The issue of the Stamford Bridge freehold and how the club will work with the Chelsea Pitch Owners remains unresolved. The CPO approved a plan to offer a 999-year lease to the club on the freehold (in effect a “permanent” lease), which should allow Abramovich to conduct business with regards to the new stadium as if he actually owned the land (other than selling it, which is what the CPO is designed to prevent). But this agreement remains just a potential proposal at this stage.
More concerning are issues regarding the initial phase of work that needs to be completed, namely the decking over the rail and tube tracks running on the east and north sides of the site, both to increase the footprint of the site and to improve access and exit capacity. These issues were identified and reported on as far back as last May (2016), with very little sign of progress since. This decking work is expected to last at least a year, with the original plans calling for it to be carried out while Chelsea were still playing at the Bridge. If that work-plan remains in effect and the railway work cannot begin this summer — and we certainly don’t seem to be anywhere close to starting it — then Chelsea won’t be moving out until 2019.
And if the actual build of the stadium encounters any delays, we could be looking at four years away from the Bridge, not just the expected three. Thus the 2023 date from the Mail’s article at the top, though 2022 seems like a decent possibility still at this point. Either way, that’s at least five years away. Nobody said this would be quick or easy. (Fortunately Abramovich has yet to get “bored” of us as many had prognosticated a decade or so ago when he first entered the scene.)
As far as where we’d go for the temporary “exile” ... Wembley remains the likely choice (given the delays, at least we no longer face the specter of a ground-share with Spurs), with West Ham’s tax-payer funded paradise a possible runner-up. The Twickenham option has been thoroughly shut down at this point. The club recently revealed that they’ve been conducting an active search inside the entire M25 motorway ring that encircles London and have identified “a number of potential temporary” venues, whatever that means.
In any case, delays are almost inevitable in any major construction project, especially one as complicated and difficult as the new stadium at Stamford Bridge. But we’ve made good progress this year already (plans approved!), so we just have to stay patient and let the wheels of bureaucracy and planning slowly make their turns.