London borough of Wandsworth not supporting return to Plough Lane
7 May ~ For many people, the end of the 2015 General Election campaign, widely seen as the most tightly media-controlled and therefore sanitised in recent history, cannot come soon enough. Unfortunately, an apparent lack of ambition on the part of the country’s leaders appears to have permeated through to the local campaign in Wandsworth.
Politicians seeking election in the borough have failed to take a positive view of AFC Wimbledon’s proposal to return home to the neighbouring borough of Merton. This offers clear benefits for new housing, employment, local sporting activity and community engagement, especially for young people living in the area. Unfortunately Wandsworth’s parliamentary candidates seem reluctant to recognise this.
When asked at last week’s hustings in Tooting their view of what were the top issues facing young people in the borough, all five participants identified housing as a high priority issue. Indeed, the sitting MP for Tooting, Labour’s Sadiq Khan (who is likely to be returned) described the housing situation as the "biggest crisis" facing young people. During the debate, the representative of the Liberal Democrats even noted in this context the tendency of people to become “cowards" when it comes to actually committing to housing projects at the local level. That appears to be exactly what is happening with the joint housing and stadium proposal development being put forward by Galliard Homes and AFC Wimbledon.
Particularly disappointing has been Wandsworth Council’s decision to object to the current proposal and the local Conservative Party’s apparent desire to seek to turn the matter into a party political affair. Its campaign literature has made a point in recent weeks of criticising the "Labour-run" Merton Council for its alleged wish to ensure that the development goes through without taking account of its impact on Wandsworth. In the absence of supporting evidence, this is an unnecessarily negative, apparently party politically motivated tactical approach that fails to take account of the bigger picture. Notably, similar arguments were made by opponents of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games when the city was seeking to host them back in 2004-05.
While the Olympics were of a different scale to this plan, the reality is that the proposed return of AFC Wimbledon to Plough Lane promises huge economic and community benefits to Wandsworth as well as Merton. It is not an exaggeration to say that, as a club owned by their supporters and made possible by the brilliant work of their volunteers every day, AFC Wimbledon are seen to be one of the UK’s most inspiring bottom-up, community-driven sporting success stories in the past decade.
Indeed, in recognition of their work the club were actually even awarded a "Big Society Award" in 2012 by the current (Conservative) prime minister. That seems a long time ago now. If they are serious about their aspirations for generating a community of active volunteer citizens, the Conservatives should be fully embracing, not discouraging, a return of Wimbledon to an adjacent borough.
It is perhaps easy for a Wimbledon supporter not living in the immediate vicinity of Plough Lane to put forward such an argument, but neither AFC nor any true Dons fan would deny the need to address any transport, housing or other concerns that may exist for local residents. But there seems to be no political will or effort in Wandsworth to even try to make this a success. It must be hoped that the current tone and obstructive approach of some local political actors on this issue changes soon. Hugo Rosemont
Dr Hugo Rosemont is a member of the Dons Trust and previously served as a member of London’s successful 2012 Olympic Bid campaign team. He writes in a personal capacity