MCC news April 21, 2014

MCC attempt to revive Lord's 'vision'

The redevelopment of cricket grounds in England, which is to say both international and county venues, should be a relatively straightforward, albeit necessarily expensive.

If Hampshire can start from scratch, Worcestershire can cope with endless floods, Nottinghamshire can retain the aura of Trent Bridge and Surrey build one of the most impressive stands constructed anywhere, then it should not be beyond MCC to enhance the most famous of all sports arenas. That has been far from the case.

Each summer the club seems to stage a more contentious annual meeting than that the previous year. There will be further fractious debate on May 7 over the internal disputes, expenditure, election of the chairman, perceived lack of leg room in the new Warner Stand and general inability to kick start any redevelopment ever since Keith Bradshaw established a 'Vision for Lord's' during his five years in office. Since then, some £5m has been spent on schemes that have never come to pass.

Quite apart from the fact that Lord's is Lord's, the whole issue has been propelled into the public consciousness by the considerable number of famous individuals caught up in the planning and the rows. These include Sir John Major, Sir Tim Rice, Lord Grabiner QC, Robert Griffiths QC, Mike Brearley, Mike Atherton, Tony Lewis and the late Christopher Martin-Jenkins, whose presidential year was marred by the termination of 'the Vision.'

Now, however, Derek Brewer, who succeeded Bradshaw as secretary of MCC two years ago, is seeking to revive 'the Vision' - at least in a slightly scaled down format. The most contentious issue in the £400m project has been the proposed building of four blocks of flats inside Wellington Road, just behind the Nursery ground. In 2011 Oliver Stocken, MCC's chairman, and Justin Dowley, the treasurer, threatened to resign if 'the Vision' went ahead in its proposed form.

Martin-Jenkins and the trustees, who included Brearley and Rice, took the view that the club could not afford to lose its two most senior officers, and instead the development committee, chaired by Griffiths (Darrell Hair's advocate) and on which sat Atherton, Lewis and Major among others, was sacked.

Brewer, frustrated since arriving at Lord's from Trent Bridge by constantly having to "look in my rear mirror" as he put it, wants to revive a deal with the owners of the head lease on the disused railway tunnels inside Wellington Road, Rifkind Levy Partnership, who are also based in St John's Wood.

On offer, in return for constructing two lower level blocks of flats, is £100m, plus £10m to charity, which would cover the cost of rebuilding five stands: Warner, which alone will cost £21m, Tavern, Allen, Compton and Edrich. Ideally, the club would like to finance this out of its own resources, but knows it will be stretched to do so.

Earlier this month Brewer invited David Morley, a Lord's architect of 20 years standing, to give a presentation to the club's main committee. It differs from the original plans by the architects Herzog de Meuron principally in that there would be fewer flats, no undercroft at the Nursery End and various offices would be re-positioned elsewhere on the ground.

This won him a round of applause, which was not exactly a regular occurrence in Gubby Allen's day. It will be several weeks, if not months, before the committee reaches a decision, but the positive reception accorded Morley is indicative that even Stocken is prepared to reconsider his opposition to developing the Nursery End.

Many MCC members and spectators will be bemused by what will amount to a u-turn by the club if Morley's scheme is adopted. The stymying of the original 'Vision'; the sacking of the distinguished development committee in 2011; the departure of Bradshaw as a secretary whose support for the 'Vision' was challenged by his chairman; (Bradshaw went on to complete a not dissimilar redevelopment at Adelaide, where he remains); the threatened resignation by Stocken and Dowley, citing caution during the recession, when challenged by Griffiths, the chairman of the development committee; the much publicised resignation from the committee of Major, who had no little experience of being able to put up with difficult individuals in Cabinet; and an expenditure of about £5m on plans that did not come into effect, would have to be overlooked by the membership.

There will also be questions asked from within the 18,000 membership (who own Lord's) if Almacantar, the club's former business partner who won an out of court settlement of £125,000 after a 23-month legal dispute, carry out construction work on the two blocks of flats. Prominent former Middlesex and England cricketers such as Mike Gatting and Angus Fraser, one MCC's president and the other on the club's committee, will also have to overcome their objections to such development.

Then there is the chairmanship: Stocken, a retired banker, will stand down on September 30, 2015 and is likely to be succeeded by Dowley, Anthony Wreford, a club trustee, or Phillip Hodson, a former president. All have a similar outlook to Stocken. Griffiths, who has a markedly different view, would also like to take over and feels the chairman should be elected by the members and not chosen backstage. Brewer will take much credit if and when the redevelopment comes to fruition, although it should not be forgotten that Bradshaw, the Australian outsider, began the process. There will be more casualties before this occurs, for sure.