The MCC committee has rejected plans for a residential development at Lord's. Having consulted with MCC members over recent weeks, the committee has instead recommended the redevelopment of Lord's in line with the club's original, though updated, Masterplan.
The club's 18,000 members will be asked to approve a resolution consenting to the plans at a Special General Meeting on September 27. If the vote is passed and planning permission gained, work on replacing the Compton and Edrich Stands would begin in late 2019 after the ground has staged the World Cup final and an Ashes Test in the preceding summer. It is scheduled to be completed by June 2021.
Subsequent developments will include a new building at the East Gate which will, among other things, house the ECB offices, a shop, a car park and contain hospitality facilities. It is scheduled to be completed by 2025.
The recommendation means there is an end in sight to an acrimonious chapter in MCC history that has rumbled on for several years, costs hundreds of thousands of pounds and seen former Prime Minister John Major resign from the committee in 2012.
It also means a rejection of the Morley Plan. The controversial proposal was based upon the building of two ten-storey apartments (containing 97 residential plots) either side of a new Nursey Pavilion which would have been leased to the MCC. The plans would not only have funded the redevelopment of the Compton and Edrich Stands, but left the club with more than £100 million in the bank. The developers had also offered a sweetener of £15m to members to cover two years of their subscriptions to the club in acknowledgement of the disruption the building operation would cause.
The developers behind the Morley Plan were the Rifkind Levy Partnership (RLP). Charles Rifkind, an investor and cousin of former Conservative minister Malcolm Rifkind, outbid MCC in 1999 to buy, for £2.35 million, a long-term lease on a 38-metre strip of land running the length of Lord's at the Nursery End. It means that, while MCC owns the lease for the top 18 inches of land, Rifkind owns the disused train tunnels that lie under the surface. Rifkind and co had hoped the MCC would relinquish its lease to allow building work to progress.
The MCC committee's decision follows a two-year process which involved one of the biggest pieces of analysis ever conducted by the club and a consultation exercise with members. Five consultation meetings were held at Lord's and around the country in June and members were also asked to complete a survey which accompanied a summary of both proposals. The review and consultation process is understood to have cost £500,000.
There were 4710 responses to the survey and, among the 2000 members who chose to add their own views at the end of the form, those in favour of the MCC's Masterplan outnumbered those in favour of the Morley Plan by a margin of more than ten to one.
"Today's decision by the MCC committee provides clarity on the extremely important and often controversial subject of ground development," MCC's chairman, Gerald Corbett, wrote in an address to members. "Put simply, the club can afford to develop the ground using its own resources and it will do so in the coming years without the need for enabling residential development.
"The Morley scheme, with flats at its heart, was considered by the committee to detract from the ambience and special feel of Lord's, as well containing a number of operational, security, execution and planning risks. Moreover the club's advisers were unable to recommend the proposed commercial terms.
"Although the Morley scheme offers a potential cash windfall, and the opportunity to acquire the leasehold land, the committee considered the flats and the effect on the grounds character too big a price to pay and risk to take. The committee also considered the advice of its five principal subcommittees, who all recommended to implement the club's Updated Masterplan and to reject flats and the Morley scheme.
"Being new to the committee - and this issue - two years ago, I have had the opportunity to ask questions, to get into the detail and to listen to the full range of opinion as to what is best for the future of Lord's. The consultation events and survey responses are unequivocal - members do not want flats at Lord's and they want MCC to continue ground development through its own finances.
"The programme for the next stage will be voted on by members in September and then the club can put this issue to bed by ensuring that developments at Lord's are based on retaining the unique character of the ground, are cricket-led and operationally feasible and provide the best possible experience for players and spectators.
"All members have been consulted. Many have spoken. The committee has decided. The club will now vote and we will then move on."