Are the Dons closer than ever to coming home to Merton? 

Decision time is drawing ever closer as Merton Council's planning committee are gearing up to decide whether or not to approve the controversial stadium plans on Thursday night.

The proposal, which include a 20,000 seat stadium - which will begin as 11,000 seats - as well as 601 new homes, a fitness club, parking, a café and a crèche are due to be debated at a planning meeting on December 10.

The proposals have split the borough between supporters of AFC Wimbledon coming back to Merton, residents living near the site and those who have raised concerns about the future of the famous greyhound racing track in Plough Lane.

Concerns have included high levels of traffic in Plough Lane and the surrounding area, more pollution from the traffic, lack of infra-structure for new residents, and the risks of building on a designated flood plain.

November 17: AFC Wimbledon vote to sell Kingsmeadow also shared by Kingstonian making Plough Lane move a step closer

October 14: Planning chairman called on to step aside on controversial AFC Wimbledon stadium plans

September 16: Plough Lane: AFC Wimbledon football stadium or school?

However, the Environment Agency announced on Wednesday, November 25, that it would remove its objection to the development because it was satisfied sufficient flood compensation would be available, surface water could be managed, there would be no increase in flood risk and the development would take opportunities to reduce flood risk.

Chairman of the AFC Independent Supporters Association, Simon Wheeler, fully supports the application.

He said: "The club have been absolutely brilliant. They’re working so hard behind the scenes. It’s not just about the best thing for AFC Wimbledon, it’s the best for the borough.

"The club are working with TfL. There are going to have to be some improvements but there are great transport connections. I imagine it more as a stadium people walk to than somewhere they drive to.

"I won’t say it’s a done deal. There’s certainly been a strong appetite from residents and the council, from all political parties for it coming back to the borough, but it is not a done deal."

Conservative councillor David Dean has revealed strong objections to the proposals, and has accused the Labour party of putting pressure on Transport for London (TfL) and the Environment Agency to make them approve the plans.

He said: "We see people crying on TV every year because their houses are flooded. You must not build houses on flood plains.

"There’s also a lot of traffic concerns. TfL need to widen functions and put on more transport.

"I absolutely support AFC coming back. I’m pro Wimbledon stadium and I’m pro AFC Wimbledon. I have been a huge supporter all my life.

Wimbledon Times:

Wimbledon greyhound racing track

"Everyone wants Wimbledon to come back but if you don’t follow the rules you negate safety, you cause pollution, you create a miserable home for these people who will be living there."

In a statement, council leader Stephen Alambritis said: "This is an important proposal which our very experienced planning officers have been looking into in detail over a number of months. 

"The final decision will be made by our independent panel of councillors who will need to take into account any planning issues that are relevant. 

"I trust them to make the right decision according to planning law."

Chief executive of AFC Wimbledon, Erik Samuelson, said: "Of course we are optimistic and positive. We have been planning this for the last ten years."

However, chairman of the Wimbledon Park Residents' Association, Iain Simpson, said: "No attempt has been made to offer serious infrastructure improvements to deal with the traffic, pedestrian, parking and crowd problems which will inevitably arise.

"Access to St George’s Hospital on match days, when road closure is envisaged, remains a major problem."

Mr Samuelson added: "We want to get people onto public transport as much as possible. It’s incredibly well served for public transport.

"I don’t have any issue with anyone who has a complaint, because they are all valid concerns. There is still a flood risk, but we have done enough to satisfy the Environment Agency that we have dealt with it.

"It’s not been a sure thing. Believe me, we have worked incredibly hard to get to the stage where we would get permission.

"I have always been optimistic, and got increasingly more confident as we went further into the process.Wimbledon Times:

"This has probably been the biggest challenge we have had since we started, but we dealt with it quietly, confidently and with passion and enthusiasm, and that’s the best way to do it."

Sports editor at the Wimbledon Guardian, Tim Ashton, believes it is only right that the Dons return to Wimbledon.

He said: "Their journey to this point since being reborn in 2002 is testimony to the hard work behind the scenes, fans’ spirit and belief, the professional manner of the club’s hundreds of volunteers and not forgetting the talent on the pitch.

The only way the Dons can take the next step is to have their starting foot in Merton."

Coun Dean, however, remains unconvinced.

He said: "If the plans get rejected, I will eat anybody’s hat."

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