Arsenal have the Emirates Stadium, West Ham moved into the Olympic Stadium and Tottenham are redeveloping White Hart Lane. A new stadium for Chelsea is therefore essential; the club's facilities must stay competitive with its London rivals because, as we outlined in a previous blog post, investment in stadia is vital to on field and off-field success.
The need for Chelsea to upgrade their stadium was also exemplified by KPMG’s “The European Champions Report”, which reported that Stamford Bridge is “continually sold-out” and that a larger venue will give Chelsea the chance to “significantly increase match day revenues”.
Chelsea were granted planning permission last year to build a new 60,000 seat stadium, with the Mayor of London stating that the stadium “will be a jewel in London’s sporting crown". In May 2017, however, a neighbouring family sought an injunction to block the plans because the new stadium would block the light coming into their home. The natural light that passes over someone else's land, and then enters a home through specific windows is an easement (a right to light) that can be established for the benefit of that home over time.
Once established, a right to light entitles the homeowner to receive sufficient natural light through the relevant windows to allow the room or space behind the window to be used for its ordinary purpose. Such a right could be waived by the homeowner in exchange for compensation but Chelsea’s offer of a six figure sum has reportedly not yet persuaded one homeowner living close to its ground. This has prevented Chelsea from moving forward with their new stadium as there was the risk that the court could order for the stadium to be demolished or cut-back (even if the development was already completed).
However, a recent new agreement has seen Hammersmith & Fulham council agree to use Section 203 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to acquire an interest in land owned by Network Rail and Transport for London and then temporarily lease the land back to Chelsea. This will essentially sidestep the homeowner’s injunction, as the legislation grants the council the power to override easements.
Chelsea have moved a step forward to achieving their new stadium, but this legal derby between property and planning law isn’t necessarily over as the family could ask for a judicial review of the council’s decision; this would truly be the remedy of last resort for the family, as it would be expensive and may prove difficult for them to bring a successful claim. Alternatively, the club may use the council’s decision as a springboard to reach an agreement with the homeowner so that any residual legal uncertainty is quashed.
Chelsea expect to be playing at Stamford Bridge until the end of 2019-20 season and, if all goes to plan, they should move into their new home by the 2024-25 season.