Is there another twist in the plans for Chelsea’s new stadium?
Could the story of Chelsea's new stadium be about to take another twist? Dan Levene takes a look at behind the scenes manoeuvres relating to the £500m proposals.
It is now six months since plans to demolish and rebuild Stamford Bridge up were dropped-off at Hammersmith Town Hall.
The ambitious modern Gothic design, with an increased capacity of 60,000, has kept the planning department at Hammersmith & Fulham council pretty busy in the intervening period.
There was huge excitement among fans surrounding the simply enormous application, which amounted to 211 individual documents and something like 1,000 pages.
But it has all gone quiet since – so what is really going on?
The silence is, in itself, quite normal at this stage of proceedings. The planning authority is scrutinising all it has been sent, and water testing everything against the statutory guidelines which govern these sort of developments.
It is also taking soundings from interested parties: from local residents and businesses, to the public authorities with a vested interest in matchdays running smoothly.
Artist's impression of Chelsea's new stadium (Pic: Hammersmith & Fulham Council / Chelsea FC)Eurosport
At some point a date will be set for the matter to be decided by the council's planning committee: and that will either give the plans the green light, or channel them into a lengthy appeals process.
So far, so mundane.
The interesting stuff is what is going on behind the scenes. Gaining concrete information on this project is far from easy – as it is not actually being driven by Chelsea Football Club.
The plans were submitted on behalf of Fordstam Ltd: the holding company which stands above the club.
Essentially, this is the baby of Roman Abramovich himself – and Mr Abramovich is not especially keen on picking up calls from the press. This has led to a great deal of speculation about two key project issues: the timescale, and the funding.
Initially, the plans seemed to suggest a quite concrete indication of when all this would happen.
Work was to begin this summer on covering-over the railway line to the east of the site, something key to expanding the footprint of available land.
And 12 months later, in summer 2017, demolition would begin – with Chelsea exiled from their home of over a century for three to four years.
" But there have been whispers in recent months that suggest this plan may be slipping. "
The first indications were well-sourced suggestions that corporate hospitality at The Bridge was still being sold on a two and three season basis – suggesting that a move to Wembley, or some other location, may be further off than anticipated.
There is also intelligence leaking out that matchday ancillary staff, whose service would almost certainly not be required during any period at Wembley, have been told their jobs will remain safe beyond the end of next season.
The reason for a hold-up in the plans, should there be one, is not known. And finding someone to confirm whether or not these issues are significant is easier said than done.
The other key issue is that of funding.
Nowhere in the copious planning document is there any clear indication of where the estimated £500m development costs are coming from.
There is the possibility that the club's bountiful owner will simply put his hand in his pocket – though given his attitude to balancing the transfer books of late, that is considered unlikely.
The expectation is of some form of cash-for-equity deal with a developer, likely as not to be Chinese.
But the traditional thinking, that such a move would require Chelsea to buy-out the freehold of the ground from the fan-owned Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) first, has always been seen as a stumbling point.
CPO do not seem to want to sell, and there is not a great deal of love lost between many of the shareholding fanbase and the club itself after this car crash of a season.
Anyone who has ever owned an apartment will know that leases are pesky thinks, particularly when the number of years starts to run down.
The 180 years remaining on the Chelsea/CPO lease may seem extensive in residential terms, but might be considered offputting to some potential corporate suitors given the value of the site, and the likely cost of the redevelopment.
That raises a the interesting prospect – one that has not really been considered before – that Chelsea might need to romance CPO, rather than completely obliterate them.
A sweetheart deal to increase the length of the lease to, say, 999 years might be Chelsea's best chance of extracting the value they need from the site in order to make the project happen.
All of this is pure speculation at present, but it is something a lot of people are watching very keenly.
When six months ago those plans went into the council, it was clear that there would be quite a few twists and turns ahead for this story.
Over the next few months, it seems likely that a few of those issues could be about to come into much sharper focus.