The long-running and turbulent saga of the future of Wimbledon greyhound stadium was dealt what looks a knockout blow yesterday as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan agreed the site should be used as a new stadium for AFC Wimbledon.
Irish businessman Paschal Taggart has been spearheading a bid to retain greyhound racing in the area and had been given reason for optimism when former mayor Boris Johnson had granted the track a reprieve following Merton council’s decision to press ahead with the Galliard Homes development late last year.
Just a couple of months ago Taggart, whose plans for the site included affordable housing, confirmed he had the backing of the local residents’ committee and felt they had a chance of getting mayor Khan on board.
However, that has not been the case and Khan has overturned Johnson’s decision, in a move which will leave London without a greyhound racing stadium. Clearly it is a devastating blow to the sport in Britain, but will have repercussions over here and much further afield in a time when the sport has been making global headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Plans for the Plough Lane development outline a 20,000-seat stadium, 602 homes and a leisure centre which would all be “of great benefit to Londoners and the wider community for generations to come”, according to Khan.
It would move the League One side back to Merton in south-west London from its current near-5,000 capacity ground in Kingston-upon-Thames. The club has been there after restarting as a new team in the ninth tier of English football in 2002.
However, the move would erase the last arena for greyhound racing in the capital and quicken the decline of an already ailing sport, campaigners say. Tracks in Wembley, West Ham, Clapton and Hackney have all disappeared and when Walthamstow shut in 2008 Wimbledon was left as the final place for race-lovers.
The growing pressure from AFC Wimbledon for a bigger stadium comes as they climb the ranks of English football having been promoted six times in 13 seasons.
The original Wimbledon FC was founded in 1889 and played at Plough Lane from 1912 to 1991, famously winning the FA Cup final against Liverpool in 1988.
Fans started the club from scratch after ground-sharing for years with Crystal Palace and being told they would have to move 80 miles north to Milton Keynes and rebrand as MK Dons in 2002 following a requirement to have all-seater stadiums.
Khan said: “I have taken the time to consult local residents, businesses and other interested parties.
“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.
“As such, I have decided to return the application to the local council to determine itself.”
Merton Council leader Stephen Alambritis said: “I am absolutely thrilled with the mayor’s decision to hand the decision back to us and we look forward to the home-coming of this much-loved and well-deserving team. Merton wants to see AFC Wimbledon back on Wimbledon turf.
“The club has been very patient throughout the process and now the dream of players and fans alike, many of whom are local, is set to become reality.”
Merton council planning committee meets on September 15.
A council spokeswoman said: “It will be a meeting to progress on to the next stage. It will formally uphold the application and the scheme will go ahead.”
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