The Mayor of London has formally handed the decision to build a new football stadium for AFC Wimbledon back to Merton Council.

It was announced this morning, Monday, August 22, that Sadiq Khan has formally reversed the decision of his predecessor, Boris Johnson, to ‘call in’ the stadium application.

The decision means that Merton Council will continue being the lead authority in the planning process, after the planning committee unanimously approved the application to build a 20,000 seater stadium – beginning as 11,000 – along with 602 flats and a range of amenities in December last year.

Julye 27: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan fights to let Merton Council make final decision on AFC Wimbledon stadium in Plough Lane

The decision is so recent that chief executive of AFC Wimbledon, Erik Samuelson, was not aware that the Mayor was handing the stadium plans back to Merton until he was told by the Wimbledon Guardian this morning.

Wimbledon Times:

Chief executive of AFC Wimbledon, Erik Samuelson

Mr Samuelson said: “We are delighted that this decision has been made by the Mayor. We hope Merton will very soon reconfirm their decision and once that’s done it will be a cause for celebration.

“We are playing it fairly cautious for now. Let’s just have the fat lady sing.

“I’m not the sort of person who is over confident about things, but I have always absolutely believed this to be the right thing to do and now I’m delighted that we can get on with it.”

In a statement released this morning, Mr Khan said: “I have taken the time to consult local residents, businesses and other interested parties and, having weighed up all of the evidence available to me, I’m confident the stadium and the leisure facility proposed alongside it will be of great benefit to Londoners and the wider community for generations to come.

March 23: AFC Wimbledon: What does the Boris call-in mean for Plough Lane?

“As such, I have decided to return the application to the local council to determine itself.”

The Mayor of London announced on July 27 that he had requested to hand the stadium back to Merton Council, and held a public consultation to receive representations on his request until August 10.

According to the Greater London Authority planning report on the decision, a total 8,460 representations were received. Of these, 7,866 responses were in favour of the Mayor returning jurisdiction to Merton Council, while 594 opposed this.

It adds that, of the representations in support, a total of 7,415 used a standard text that stated: “I am of the opinion that the previous Mayor’s decision to assume control over the Plough Lane planning application from Merton Council was mistaken. I support the proposal to return the application to Merton Council for a final decision.”

Representations received in opposition included concerns that Merton Council’s decision was pre-determined and not neutral, and objectors were ignored by the council and intimidated by supporters.

Wimbledon Times:

An artists' impression of the new stadium. Photo: Sheppard Robson Architects

Leader of Merton Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, described talk of a pre-determined decision as “absolute tosh” and said he is hopeful the club will be able to play their first game in Plough Lane in August 2018.

Cllr Alambritis said: “We are absolutely delighted. That application is now in the safest of hands. Things are now back with Merton, it’s all systems go and it’s now definite this will happen.

“There was no prior decision. There was a willingness on behalf of all the council in Merton to have the club back in the borough. We didn’t specify where. It’s a fairy-tale story, it’s an international story, and we wanted it back in the borough.

July 7: AFC Wimbledon's Plough Lane stadium may be approved by August says leader of Merton Council Coucillor Stephen Alambritis

“The only planning application we received for Plough Lane has been AFC Wimbledon. We would have looked at any other application in the same way, but we didn’t receive any others.”

Cllr Alambritis added that, in his view, consent for the application still stood from the planning committee decision in December.

However, chair of the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association, Iain Simpson, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision and expressed concerns over the transport infrastructure and lack of affordable housing – which, proposed as 60 of the 602 flats, stands at 9.6 per cent.

During his election campaign, Mr Khan said he would set a target for 50 per cent of all new homes in London to be "genuinely affordable". 

Mr Simpson said: "It seems to have been a bit of a foregone conclusion.

“There are so many reasons why we and a lot of other people think he should have held onto this application and had an independent viewing. There are many points which have not been properly addressed. It’s going to be absolute chaos in Plough Lane.

“I can’t believe Sadiq Khan has handed the decision back to Merton. There’s so little affordable housing. This was his opportunity to show he had integrity about his election promises, and he has failed.”

To read the full report into the Mayor of London's decision, click here.

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