Following the recent meeting with L&Q and the Save Our Stow consortium on 17 September 2008, L&Q published a rather negative public statement via their website on 2 October 2008. Please read it on this page:
In response to this statement, the Save Our Stow consortium have written back to them with the following open letter:
Mr S Baxter
14 October 2008
Thank you for your letter of 2 October 2008.
Our reply is set out as follows for ease of reference :
II Points regarding planning permission
III Dealing with the specific points of your letter
The meeting of 17th September was an opportunity to meet one another and agree common ground. It was not stated in the agenda or elsewhere that we were to make a formal offer at this meeting. Indeed our position has been vindicated by your letter. Quite frankly an awful lot of time and effort would have been wasted in making a formal offer under a mixed usage proposal when you have turned this offer down flatly under the general principle, let alone price.
We had hoped that the meeting would be the start of a relationship whereby we could work together in the best interests of the local residents and the community as a whole. You are correct in stating that we did wish to ‘work with you’ as we felt that there was an opportunity for you, us and the council to work together to find a solution to satisfy all parties.
You have instead chosen to send a very dismissive letter and make the response public via your web-site. We feel sorry for the residents of Waltham Forest that you have chosen this course of action.
II POINTS REGARDING PLANNING PERMISSION
1. WALTHAM FOREST UNITARY DEVELOPMENT PLAN : FIRST REVIEW ADOPTED MARCH 2006
We set out in Appendix 1 various extracts from the plan that clearly show, in our opinion, that granting planning permission for the site would be totally against agreed policy.
2. PUBLIC SUPPORT
It seems that you may be hearing but you are certainly not listening to the overwhelming support we have to keep greyhound racing at the stadium and against your proposals to just build flats and houses on the site. Your strap line is ‘building places where people want to live’- well perhaps you should start listening to what this community is telling you? A community needs more than just houses and you are in fact destroying a community by taking away its most popular attraction and its very heart.
We would remind you that we have the support of the Lib Dem and Conservative councillors (letter from John Macklin-Deputy Leader of the WBWF enclosed), Neil Gerrard MP and Iain Duncan Smith MP and the public at large (as evidenced in a 15,000 strong petition arranged in little over a week).
If you were to maintain that our plans do not carry the overwhelming support of Waltham Forest we would be very happy to take part in a phone vote organised by Waltham Forest Guardian where you and us both set out our visions for the site. We challenge you to let the community decide the future of its biggest leisure asset.
The key to you not having any realistic chance of obtaining planning permission is VIABILITY. The accounts prove the business’s viability with profits in the 6 years to 28 February 2007 totalling over £9.5m before dividends, directors remuneration and pension contributions, with 1.94m being paid in pension and directors’ remuneration in one year alone (1995).
Our projections show that an annual profit of well over £2m is readily achievable with simple changes made to the way the business is run.
Richard Codd’s lease offer, coupled with the full public backing, proves viability and a need for the site to be retained for employment (and leisure) purposes. Granting planning permission would be against the council’s own directives.
Not only have you not actively tried to let the site for employment purposes, you have bluntly refused a perfectly fair offer to do so (see Appendix 1-Chapter 2 (2.41))
Under these guidelines, you would in any case be required to relocate a greyhound stadium to other premises which, in our opinion, would be a near impossibility.
III DEALING WITH THE SPECIFIC POINTS OF YOUR LETTER
1. Our outline proposal showed that we recognise the need for affordable housing and offered a perfectly good compromise that could have been worked on with you and the council to provide a suitable outcome for everyone. Our plans offered 254 homes that could be all affordable housing as opposed to yours which suggest less than this number as affordable homes.
2. We did not suggest a ‘joint venture’. We could have bought the land back to facilitate the greyhound track and it could be two totally separate ventures.
3. We have formed a limited company called Save Our Stow Ltd which could facilitate future dealings between us.
4. We were not presented with an agenda outlining a request to show evidence of funds. We saw the meeting as an opportunity to discuss proposals and meet for the first time. As stated earlier, what is the point in incurring costs in presenting financial proof for a plan that is dismissed in principle?
5. The offer of 23rd July 2008 to buy the stadium was withdrawn because of the simple fact that the land value has depreciated greatly since that date.
6. Your suggestion that people would not want to live near a greyhound track and that it would not create a pleasant environment clearly shows how out of touch you are with the community you are there to serve. Houses have backed on to the stadium for 75 years and in the main these residents are amongst are greatest supporters. Shelbourne Park and Romford stadiums are examples of greyhound tracks and residential accommodation co-existing in perfect harmony and you will recall that Paschal Taggart invited you to Ireland to see Shelbourne Park which you have chosen not to do. There is even a successful local example of residential units being integrated, designed, built and sold at Leyton Orient AFC where each corner of the ground has been given over to blocks of flats. Please detail what evidence you have to substantiate your statements?
7. You state that your plans are to produce a mixed use community but a sustainable community needs more than merely housing. We would ask what leisure and entertainment facilities do you propose for the site because the draft plans that we were shown included none whatsoever. On the other hand, our plans follow the sustainable community statement as directed by LBWF with a cinema, ten pin bowling and other leisure facilities for the community.
8. You should not assume that, because no offer has been made for the outright sale of the site, that no offer will be made. Until your letter we had no idea as to which option out of a lease, part purchase of the site or outright purchase was of interest to you. It seems from your response that only outright purchase is of interest to you at this stage. You have refused to indicate a price despite being asked including at the meeting and therefore we have to base any offer on market value. We are currently establishing this value by way of independent valuations. The investment consultants handling the finance of the potential purchase of Walthamstow Stadium are Kuhrt Leach LLP. Richard Leach can be contacted via e mail on firstname.lastname@example.org
9. It is a shame that you have refused Richard Codd’s offer to lease the track so readily. How can the offer be unsubstantiated when Richard has offered half the annual rent to be paid up front? A cheque could be sent to you within days. The true reason for your refusing the lease option, we suspect, is you are now fully aware of the VIABILITY of the site and you know that by accepting Richard’s offer any chance of obtaining future planning permission would be extremely remote.
10. Richard’s offer to lease the site would bring inward investment in to the borough, offering jobs and a good, inexpensive night out for the local community and at the same time invigorating the local night time economy.
11. We have adequate plans to provide supporting car parking use for the greyhound operation and you should not concern yourself with this operational point. Your other reasons for not agreeing the lease are, quite frankly, ‘non reasons’.
12. Part of the scheme is indeed located on a small area of land outside the current demise. Given the overall benefits the design will bring we would reasonably expect to arrange a purchase of this land into the scheme that would be supported by the authorities involved.
13. Regarding the river and basement parking, our designers were working to illustrative sketch design level. They did not have the benefit of a flood risk assessment. They had however seen your sketch scheme submitted to the planning authority which included basement parking provision. On the basis that your architects had flood risk information it is reasonable to assume that basement parking is possible. It would seem that our parking areas would need to be repositioned; this would be part and parcel of normal design development as the scheme is taken forward. The parking illustrated is only for the residential and is provided to a level that would be appropriate for this location. The parking associated with the leisure uses will be provided off site.
14. Please could you clarify where the Epping Forest land you refer to actually is as. Aside from the small section at the front of the site mentioned in point 12 above, the scheme design presented is wholly on the demise as advised by the Land Registry as being the subject site area.
15. Assuming your suggestion of a 500 unit scheme can be serviced for gas, water and electricity we surely cannot have bigger problems for a scheme of about half that size? Please clarify in more detail.
16. Given that the continuation of greyhound racing may be dependent on a relocation of the listed sign and facade we would expect such relocation would be successfully negotiated with both English Heritage and the local planning authority.
17. The mixed use plan can be criticised, as can any preliminary design, but rather than criticise it would have been more constructive had you decided to engage with us and the council to move this idea forward.
18. You state that press coverage has given a misleading impression and intensifies disappointment. Sarah Cosgrove of the local Guardian has often called your office and been met with ‘no comment’-you have had ample opportunities of stating your position. As for talk of ‘disappointment’ it’s a shame you are not taking on board the disappointment of 500 people who have lost their jobs, hundreds more in service industries (taxi drivers, food suppliers etc) massively affected by the closure and the thousands of people in the borough and beyond that have lost their good, inexpensive night out and part of their social identity.
19. On the subject of mis-leading Press Coverage perhaps you will be kind enough to explain how you intend to deliver your plans via a system that is ‘broken’ according to your Chief Executive and also how you can be on the site during 2009 when your Chief Executive states that no building will take place within the next 18 months.
We are not acting on behalf of the SOS committee alone. We have the full support of local MP’s, the majority of Councillors (including the deputy Chairman) and the vast majority of residents and workers of the borough. If you feel that this is in doubt, please engage in our offer of a phone vote with the Local Guardian to see whose vision of the site the people of the borough prefer. This support will intensify once the viability case is circulated further.
We fully intend to fight all the way to ensure that greyhound racing recommences at the site to create the jobs, leisure facilities and night time economy that this borough deserves and in line with Waltham Forest’s policy of sustainable communities. The local authority in its ‘big issues’ page on its web site recognise housing yes, but it also states that it needs ‘leisure facilities and places to go in the evenings’. It is highly unlikely that the council would support the loss of a PERFECTLY VIABLE leisure facility such as Walthamstow Stadium, given that it is an icon of the borough and arguably the most famous populist landmark in Waltham Forest. Any planning brief for the site would have to incorporate the continuation of this successful, famous operation. That is why you should be working with Save Our Stow.
We recognise the need for social housing which is why we included the potential of having more social housing on our plans than on yours. But we will not accept housing at the expense of this iconic greyhound track and ripping the heart out of Waltham Forest.
As mentioned many times in this letter the key to this whole issue is FINANCIAL VIABILITY. Unfortunately, you have been hoodwinked in to believing that greyhound racing is dead and that Walthamstow Stadium is not viable. We can PROVE that greyhound racing is flourishing in stadia where facilities are modern and new ideas incorporated. We can PROVE that Walthamstow Stadium made about £10m in the 6 years to 28 February 2007 and it was only the massive pension and directors remuneration that clouded the issue and we can PROVE that, if run correctly, the stadium would make upwards of £2m profit per annum. You could lease it to Richard Codd tomorrow and viability would be PROVEN.
We would suggest that your ‘due diligence’ was flawed as you should have checked the viability of Walthamstow Stadium more closely. It seems that the previous owners advised that the business was non viable and you believed them. That was a big mistake.
From our point of view the three main options of lease, part sale of the site and outright sale of the site remain viable and it is in your interests as well as everybody else’s that you fully engage with us so that a solution can be found and agreed to everybody’s benefit.
We look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Mr Richard Holloway
CC Neil Gerrard MP, Iain Duncan Smith MP, Seamus Lalor (LBWF), John Macklin (LBWF)