Dulwich Hamlet FC was given the green light to build a new stadium on playing fields beside its home by a planning committee last night (July 27).  

At the end of a longer than five-hour meeting, two members voted against, one abstained, and five voted for a new 4,000-capacity stadium and clubhouse, 219 homes, a kickabout area, and 3G pitch.

The club will also be given a 125-year lease for peppercorn rent.  

DHFC, which has changed hands numerous times, is based in Champion Hill. 

The joint application from owner Meadow Partners and the club sought to move its base to the neighbouring Astroturf in Green Dale playing fields, Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) owned by the council and the main issue of contention for those against the proposals.  

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The plans

Planning officers recommended approval on the grounds that the scheme would help “secure the club’s long-term future, which is regarded by many as a community asset”, while it has a “reputation for promoting equality and the elimination of discrimination”. 

Supporting the future of the club is also priority for the council, and officers said, “on balance”, the benefits outweighed the harm caused.  

Objector Phil Addison, from Friends of Green Dale, said the group “wants the club to thrive”, but argued that the land it intends to move onto, which has been described has “derelict”, is now “thriving” and “much more welcoming” after interventions from the council, and was especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic for locals.  

“Taking away our Astroturf is harmful to our community,” he said, adding that 81 per cent of people in the area live in flats, while there are “at least 2,000 households”.  

Chairman of the club, Ben Clasper, said approval of the application was “critical” to DHFC’s survival.  

“This decision is critical for the club and the thousands of supporters that have fought for years to get to this moment. 

“Dulwich Hamlet has been part of Southwark life for 127 years, the last 110 of those have been at Champion Hill, and our first stadium was on the exact site of the Astroturf so this plan really returns us home.  

“The current stadium is in a very poor condition, the club is now owned by fans who can’t afford the upkeep, let alone full renovation. 

“Without a new stadium we shall cease to exist in our current form […]” he said.  

On community access he said “the new multi-use area was sufficient for the numbers we were observing [using the Astroturf]”. 

Mr Clasper also said the plans for the Astroturf was “not a revenue exercise”, while they have agreed that community use of the pitch will be subsidised.  

Planners said the club could use the MOL on “very special circumstances” grounds, but Friends of Green Dale, along with other community groups, disputed this, while Mr Addison said the report failed to seek an alternative site.  

Sporting use is also one of the uses that is allowable for MOL.  

One of the reasons why people all over the country are commenting on this club is because they are known all over the country

Champion Hill ward Cllr Peter John likened the proposals to building a swimming pool and tennis court in his neighbour’s garden.  

“If I came before this committee having just purchased a house in Southwark and told you that I had amazing plans to increase the value of my house by demolishing it, rebuilding across my entire plot, and then building a swimming pool and tennis court in my neighbour’s garden, which by the way I didn’t own, and told you it would be ok as I would put a massive screen around the pool and tennis court when I was using it, but would take the screen down when I wasn’t and would charge my neighbour’s commercial rates to use the pool and tennis court in their garden, you would rightly think I was absurd and that my application was absurd. 

“But chair, in many ways, that’s the application you’ve been asked to consider tonight,” he said.  

Cllr John, also council leader, said he fought for 18 years to get Green Dale back under public control as MOL, and asked that it remain that way.  

He said he wasn’t “anti-development” or “anti-DHFC”, but said the application was a “step too far” as it moves the stadium onto MOL.  

“There is a world of difference between a freely accessible Astroturf as it is now, and a stadium which is only available for commercial hire and which is subject to the regular erection of screens.  

“If we’ve learned anything in the last five months, it’s the absolute value of publicly available and accessible green space,” Cllr John said, adding that Green Dale has “provided a haven for many different residents from many different backgrounds”.  

Ward Cllr Sarah King said what Champion Hill doesn’t have a major park “that people can go to and do large scale informal exercise”. 

“Green Dale is an area which has blossomed since the council has invested in it and that’s what’s at stake at the moment. 

“Unfortunately, what we have today is an application where the club and the community have been pitted against each other,” she said.  

The meeting became heated when chair Councillor Martin Seaton and ward councillors clashed over acceptable use of MOL.  

The chair said the proposed use was “acceptable […] and complies with policy” – but Cllr John said it was “an opinion not fact”, while Cllr King said it was an “assessment […] not a factual statement”.  

Cllr Seaton said: “Actually, it’s an assessment on our policy and also in compliance with the London Plan.” 

He added that it’s a “recognised accepted use”, comparing it to tennis courts in Burgess Park, which the public has to pay for.  

He said he wanted to make sure people weren’t arguing about what was “blindingly obvious”. 

“While I’m recognising you’ve taken a position, your position at the moment seems inexplicable, [what] you are referring to are policies which we’ve all signed up to,” he said, adding the MOL use was “not an interpretation” and is “written in stone”.  

Cllr Seaton said their decision to argue against new homes, of which 27.3 per cent will be socially rented, was “astounding”, while Cllr John said he would have preferred more council homes.  

Cllr John later tried to call a point of order, which was refused, over the chair “misrepresenting” the ward councillors. 

Cllr Jason Ochere voted against the application mainly because it was unclear how many comments of support were local. He said some were from as far as Liverpool and could have been input more than once.  

Cllr Cleo Soanes abstained over concerns about biodiversity, while Cllr Adele Morris voted against the application over use of MOL.  

Cllr Darren Merrill, Cllr Barrie Hargrove, Cllr Martin Seaton, Cllr Damian O’Brien, and Cllr Kath Whittam voted in favour on community benefit grounds, as well as the addition of new homes for borough.  

Cllr Hargrove said the community work the club has done is “magnificent”.  

“One of the reasons why people all over the country are commenting on this club is because they are known all over the country. 

“They are so interesting and modern about their football […] no one could be failed to be impressed [with the work they do],” he said.  

The application had two additional conditions attached to it, which mean that there will be no occupation “beyond the 99th dwelling” until all water network upgrades required to serve the development are completed, and that opening hours of the stadium will not be outside 8am to 10.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 8am to 8.30pm on Sunday.