Could they build houses on The Valley?

We are grateful to CAST member Mark Batchelor - who is a Director of a national planning consultancy – for the following article on the policy, legal and financial issues surrounding the development of the freehold properties of The Valley and Sparrows Lane. Mark is currently advising other clubs in connection with the development of their stadium sites and he has been advising clients on the development of sites in Greenwich for many years so the Borough’s politics and policy position are familiar to him.


Following ESI’s acquisition of Charlton Athletic in January, the club and its supporters find themselves in the undesirable position of the club being in one ownership and The Valley and Sparrows Lane being in the continued ownership of Roland Duchatalet. The club being tenant in its own home has understandably caused concern among supporters about the potential for the club to be evicted and questions are being asked about the potential for The Valley and Sparrows Lane to be redeveloped by the owner.

1. Before we get into the detail, are our concerns well-founded, or are we getting carried away?

First, starting with the good news, I think any developer would find it close to impossible to purchase the freehold of The Valley and devise a redevelopment proposal which would be acceptable in planning terms while delivering a sufficient profit (industry standard is 17-20%) to make the scheme viable. On first glance one might consider Sparrows Lane to present an opportunity but for reasons I’ll come to below, the planning policy position in relation to the training ground is sufficiently strong that any developer would find it extremely difficult to secure a permission for the site’s development.

2.  How would the Council approach the determination of any planning application at either The Valley or Sparrows Lane?

I will try not to go too deep into the vagaries of the planning system, but in short, any planning application must be decided in accordance with the Council’s development plan. The planning policies in the development plan are the starting point unless there are other material considerations which would override those policy objectives.

The development plan in Greenwich is made up of the Council’s Core Strategy and the Mayor of London’s London Plan with Government policy objectives in the National Planning Policy Framework also being relevant as a material consideration.

Usually, planning policies are reviewed every five years so that they remain up to date and a new London Plan is in its advanced stages and should be adopted this year. The Council’s Core Strategy is shortly going to be reviewed with a new “Local Plan” being adopted in its place.

3.  Let’s start with the training ground at Sparrows Lane – is there any considerable risk that Mr Duchatalet would be able to secure permission for its development, leaving the club having to identify and secure an alternative site for the training ground?

The training ground at Sparrows Lane is the easiest place to begin. It is designated Metropolitan Open Land (“MOL”) which has the same level of policy protection as the Green Belt. In short, therefore, any developer would find it extremely difficult to secure permission for the site’s development for any purpose which is not “appropriate” in policy terms. Certainly, any proposal for residential development at the site would only be approved by the Council (or by the Secretary of State on appeal) if, in the most unlikely of circumstances, the Council is a long way short of having a five year supply of housing land and the training ground came forward as part of a strategic extension of Eltham.

If the owner was to promote the site for allocation for development through a review of the Core Strategy, I would fully expect the Council to reject the proposal immediately as there are other parts of the Borough which will be prioritised for new development ahead of releasing a large swathe of MOL for development.

If the owner was to seek to secure permission for a leisure use on the training ground site, this might be appropriate development in the MOL and would stand a better chance of success, but I cannot see this being a commercially viable or likely outcome.

In short, the prospects of anyone securing planning permission or an allocation for the development of Sparrows Lane for development which is inappropriate in the MOL is extremely remote. If they were able to do so (or secured permission for an alternative leisure use), I would have full confidence that the club would be able to identify an alternative site for development as a training ground. Obviously this would involve considerable expense but in principle it should be relatively straightforward to secure the necessary planning permission for the development of a new site.

4.  So what about The Valley?

The stadium is designated “Community Open Space” and the use of the site as a stadium attracts some policy protection from the community facility policies in the Core Strategy. There isn’t, however, any specific policy protection for the stadium and planning policy cannot go so far as to say the stadium must be used by CAFC.

I think it is important to set out here that the lack of explicit policy protection for the stadium is not unusual – the majority of stadia in this country are not given special planning policy protection presumably because the club and the asset most commonly remain in single ownership so the question of redevelopment is never an issue. For example, Selhurst Park, Twickenham and The Emirates Stadium have no specific protective designations in their respective authorities’ development plans. Anfield is designated “primarily residential use” meaning that theoretically a proposal to redevelop the stadium for housing would be supported by policy.

The Community Open Space policy in Greenwich’s Core Strategy protects such space for the benefit of the community. Cynically, you might argue that the stadium does not provide any open space for the benefit of the community; in fact the opposite applies. The open space (i.e. the pitch) and its immediate surroundings are in private ownership and the pitch reserved for the exclusive use of elite athletes on match days – indeed it is a criminal offence for anyone else to enter the pitch. Accordingly, if a redevelopment of The Valley was proposed with some public open space, it might be argued that the development enhances the site’s role as Community Open Space.  It would be necessary for a developer to demonstrate that the scheme will not be harmful to the local economy and that there would not be adverse health impacts.

At this juncture, I can’t help but return to the point I make above which is that I cannot see how any developer would be able to acquire the site and secure planning permission for a viable and deliverable scheme. The development costs would be unusually high given the need to demolish the stadium so the scale of development required to turn a decent profit would be very significant and beyond what would likely be considered acceptable in terms of impact on the townscape and the area’s character in general.

At the end of last week, I joined a meeting between CAST and Councillors Danny Thorpe and Sarah Merrill of Greenwich Council who made very clear their support for the club. It is evident that the Council sees Charlton Athletic as a valuable asset and it also greatly values the work the club does in the community. Their supportive comments were very reassuring and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that Charlton Athletic’s future in Greenwich is safeguarded.