England news March 7, 2013

MCC group calls for debate on redevelopment plans

The MCC is resigned to hosting a Special General Meeting (SGM) called by a group of disaffected members with the intention of forcing an independent enquiry into the decision to discontinue plans for redevelopment as outlined in 'Vision for Lord's'.

The Reform Group is particularly unhappy at what it claims is the decision to reject an opportunity outlined in the Vision For Lord's for residential development on an area of leasehold land that borders the Wellington Road side of Lord's and houses the Nursery Pavilion.

As thing stand, the MCC only have temporary planning permission for that area of Lord's. It expires in November and the local council, Westminster, have previously indicated that a further renewal is "unlikely to be granted." The Reform Group also alleges planning permission extends only to car parking and cricket-related activity so that many of the events in the pavilion, which is used for conferences and dinners on a daily basis, are in contravention of the user clause.

At the time planning permission for the land was last renewed in 2008, Westminster City Council requested the MCC submit a long-term 'master plan' for Lord's, rather than the MCC developing the ground in piecemeal fashion. It was from this request that the Vision for Lord's was born.

Ultimately, however, that particular plan was abandoned amid great acrimony. The Reform Group claims that the "reasons given for the cancellation were opaque, contradictory and confusing" and "led to the resignation from the MCC Committee of Sir John Major", the former Prime Minister, who subsequently claimed that the club misrepresented his resignation and "traduced" his reputation.

Major also claimed that the composition of the new ground working party was entirely biased in its opposition to the Vision. The MCC is understood to have so far spent around £3.75 million on the plans, which involved a public competition involving 12 international architects.

The MCC have previously indicated that the economic downturn and a danger of overdeveloping an attractive part of the ground - the Vision would have comprised five tower blocks on the area currently housing the Nursery Pavilion - were contributory factors in the decision to abandon the plans. The Reform Group maintains that the MCC would not have carried the financial risk, that developers remained keen to pursue the plans and that various low-scale developments were also possible.

While the group require only 180 members - about 1 per cent of the club's overall membership - to call an SGM, they require a majority of the voting membership to pass a resolution. Members of the Reform Group include Nick Gandon who was previously director of the Cricket Foundation, the charity that set up and continues to oversee the Chance to Shine initiative which seeks to promote cricket in state schools.

MCC SGMs are not particularly unusual; the last came in July 2012 and was staged to debate the club's incorporation by Royal Charter. If the Reform Group gains the necessary level of support, the MCC will be obliged to call such a meeting within 90 days.

The enabling development on the leasehold land was designed to release substantial funds - a figure of £100 million was touted - to be safeguard the future of the club and to be reinvested into improving cricket facilities, members' facilities and spectator facilities at Lord's as well as enabling the club to increase revenue through much increased capacity.

The MCC insist that all development options remain "on the table." A spokesman told ESPNcricinfo that "the redevelopment of the ground remains one of the top priorities" of the club's executive and pointed out that the new chief executive, Derek Brewer, had only been in position for 10 months. In that period, he has also had to contend with Lord's hosting the Olympic archery events. The spokesman also pointed out that members would be updated on the development plans at the club's annual general meeting on May 1 and reiterated the stance that it remained quite possible that the leasehold land would play a part in that.

But the MCC Reform Group insists that members have waited patiently for news of the redevelopment plans and several deadlines have passed without an update. The last straw for them came after the MCC produced a Strategic Plan for the next decade at the end of February which contained little detail and no reference to development of the leasehold land.

It is worth noting that, at the club's last AGM in May, a committee resolution to preclude any residential development on the leasehold land at the Nursery End of the ground was withdrawn after opposition from members. Quite why such a resolution was proposed remains unclear.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo