Save udney park playing fields
Due Diligence checklist
Due diligence checklist for any parties considering a “foolish purchase” and preventing a return to community ownership before the Udney Park War Memorial Playing Field Centenary
In the Spring of 2022, Udney Park and its’ Pavilion continue to deteriorate, and a sale to the community, as the Asset of Community Value (2012) legislation intends, has not progressed. It is 100 years in November 2022 since the “War Memorial Ground, Teddington” opened in the presence of the WW1 Home Secretary (and local MP) Viscount Cave and two Victoria Cross holders. Our goal remains, community ownership secured before the Centenary, that is now only 7 months away (or 150 days to be precise).
Are the current owners AHH waiting for a commercial bidder to pay more than the value of Udney Park as a community playing field? The value of the fields goes down every month as the Pavilion and pitches need ever greater remediation. To help any potential commercial bidder save time on their due diligence before concluding that speculating on a playing field is unethical and loss-making, here is a check list of protections on Udney Park.
•Imperial College decide to sell Udney Park and inform the community that they had taken advice that Udney Park does not have development potential.
• LBRUT confirm in a Planning Brief in March 2015, re-issued to bidders for clarity, that there is no development potential at Udney Park. The Park is an Other Open Land of Local Importance (OOLTI), an important local protection that maintains open views in built-up areas.
• Udney Park is listed as a Major Site in the LBRUT Local Plan Playing Pitch Strategy, and Councils have an obligation to provide capacity for team sports.
• The London Mayor said in July 2015, “Udney Park was given for amateur rugby, loss for any other purpose would be a scandal and disgrace”.
• In Sep 2015, after Knight Frank ran a comprehensive marketing campaign that resulted in a single unconditional speculator bid, Quantum (now called AHH) acquired Udney Park.
• Council Leaders said in 2016, “My heart does not bleed for Quantum, they knew they bought a Park in a Borough that protects its green spaces, it was a foolish purchase”.
• According to the public accounts of “Quantum Teddington LLP”, AHH spent over £4M on professional fees, which resulted in total loss after a 14 day Public Inquiry. The Inspector refused AHHs “planning balance” case and gave no wriggle room for any future “mixed use” application.
• AHH were represented by one of the leading Planning QCs in London. Lawyers advised that the Inquiry outcome prevents future speculative development.
The amount of protection has increased ten-fold since 2015.
In 2015, the protection of Udney Park was only “Other Open Land of Importance” and a Pre-Application Planning Brief, the following legal protections have been added:
1) The “section 106” on the hedge maintenance is now enforced so that AHH has to maintain the boundary properly.
2) Tree Preservation Orders protect the trees all around the boundary and rule out new access points.
3) Local Green Space, a national designation for especially sensitive urban locations, was bestowed on Udney Park by a Planning Inspector after a High Court case.
4) Asset of Community Value, a national designation for Assets intended to move to community ownership and operation, with rights enshrined in law for communities to trigger a Compulsory Purchase Order for “owners unwilling to sell”.
5) The definitive result of the Udney Park Public Inquiry, and other cases where parks and green space have been protected.
6) Udney Park is now proposed as a Site of Boroughwide Importance for Nature Conservation in the revised Local Plan, after the presence of 9 protected species was confirmed during the AHH planning application. Natural England objected to the AHH planning application.
7) Udney Park Pavilion is now a Building of Townscape Merit and re-recognised as a War Memorial, the highest tier of local heritage protection. Historic England objected to the AHH planning application.
8) In the Local Plan Playing Pitch Strategy, Udney Park is now a “Strategic site”. Councils have an obligation in their Local Plan to protect pitch capacity. Sport England objected to the AHH planning application.
9) Savills ran a comprehensive marketing campaign throughout 2021 to try and generate bids for Udney Park that resulted in an unprecedented complaint from an LBRUT Director that the sales particulars were misleading and that the Council would protect the Park as a playing field. Despite Savills’ claiming Udney Park was an “investment opportunity” we believe there are zero unconditional developer bids.
10) After substantial local coverage of the campaign to protect Udney Park, The Times and Private Eye run articles about the impasse over Udney Park calling on Lord Fink, the Chairman of AHH, to intervene and ensure a sale to the community. Munira Wilson MP also lobbied Lord Fink on behalf of the Udney Park Foundation.
Sport England, Natural England, Historic England, the London Mayor and Richmond Council have created a “ring of steel” of protection for Udney Park, the pandemic has helped us appreciate the value of community sport even more. Against this backdrop of increased protection of the Park, commercial bidders are realizing that Udney Park is a community playing field with zero hope of a “carve up” and an abnormal profit.
In 2016 a local council leader said “don’t believe, for one second, that AHH working with local clubs is anything other than camouflage for a grubby land deal”. We did not believe then and we still do not, the current minor usage of the Park is an attempt by AHH to pretend there is meaningful community utilization of the Park, we believe to try and block a potential Compulsory Purchase Order.
On top of all the protections, thankfully since 2015 the world has embraced Environmental, Social and Governance reporting to evaluate all companies and all investments, as part of a belated shift towards preventing climate catastrophe. Speculating on urban green space in London has gone from “foolish” and a “scandal and disgrace” in 2015 to quite simply “unethical” and “unsustainable” in 2022. And if there any speculators in 2022 that care nothing for ethics or sustainability, the current owners have suffered the loss of the majority of their funds spent since 2015.
The Teddington community has spent 8 years, over #100,000 and thousands of hours of volunteer team fighting to protect Udney Park. We will never quit. We demand Udney Park War Memorial Playing Field in community ownership by its’ Centenary on 25th November 2022, 150 days and counting down!
Richmond Council publish open letter to Savills regarding misleading marketing activities
The Trust raised a formal complaint with Savills that they were omitting "material facts" in the sales brochure and website for Udney Park, in breach of the RICS Guidelines for Commercial Property Agents. The Council raised a similar complaint. Savills are promoting the sale of Udney Park as an "investment and development opportunity" and repeating the same idea that Quantum spent 5 years pursuing; that the Car Park and Pavilion can be replaced with residences and that " partial development of the wider property may also be justifiable". Savills also failed to get an updated Planning Brief from the Council, which would reflect the 6 year planning battle during Quantum's ownership. The Council has now pro-actively provided a Planning Brief to Savills as a public document, which we share here:
Savills begin marketing Udney Park with misleading sales brochure
We are very disappointed to see the new Savills brochure that claims Udney Park is "an investment and development opportunity". Various people in the property industry have shown us a copy of this brochure and we are very alarmed that the information presented is considerably "wide of the mark". The brochure contains inaccurate information and suggests development potential at odds with the Local Plan and the Planning Inspectors findings.
Savills seem to have overlooked the following 10 matters that we consider crucial and have not circulated a Planning Brief with their brochure:-
1) The Site is ecologically important, Natural England submitted an objection to the Public Inquiry, as there are 9 protected species present. There is a maternity roost of bats beside the car park and they feed and travel along the dark corridor that goes over the car park.
2) Savills suggest "redevelopment of the car park and pavilion would appear warranted" but they are both intrinsic parts of an operational playing fields', not divisible "assets". If the car park were built on it would be essential to build on part of the Fields themselves in order to provide replacement parking. There is no prospect of permission being granted to tarmac over any of this Local Green Space ("LGS"). A community playing field needs a Pavilion.
3) As a result of the High Court victory Udney Park uniquely had LGS designated by a Planning Inspector, not the Council.
"there is more than enough evidence that UPPF are demonstrably special to the local community. It is abundantly clear that UPPF meet the criteria for LGS designation. I am of the firm view that designation of UPPF as LGS has been very clearly justified”. (Planning Inspector, 2019). LGS is the highest level of planning protection available for urban green space".
4) The whole Park is an OOLTI (Other Open Land of Townscape Importance), not most of Park as stated by Savills;
5) The whole Park is an Asset of Community Value which was renewed in March 2021 for 5 more years minimum.
6) The “residential apartment” above the pavilion changing rooms is a groundsman’s flat and tied to the use of the Park as operational playing fields (and has not been occupied for at least 10 years).
7) Udney Park is a War Memorial. Heritage England objected strongly at the Public Inquiry against development, the whole park and pavilion is a War Memorial funded by a WW1 memorial charity in 1922. The Pavilion was featured at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1924 and is pending being listed as a Building of Townscape Merit on the Local Plan revision, per the recommendation by Heritage England.
8) The ACV legislation has specific reference to Compulsory Purchase Orders, which is the Trust's next remedy if Quantum do not sell to a community body in a spirit of partnership. Richmond Council has CPO'd a playing field before, if the Council CPO'd Udney Park the community would then buy the site as a Community Asset Transfer from the Council, after the CPO (which means zero cost to the public purse).
The Government Policy on Compulsory Purchase Orders pertaining to ACVs is clear:
“Authorities can receive requests from the community or local bodies to use their compulsory purchase powers to acquire Assets of Community Value that are in danger of being lost where the owner of the asset is unwilling to sell”. (2019 HM Government CPO Guidance, para 225).”
9) Savills claim "development of playing fields has been justified through public benefit", which is at odds with much Local, Regional and National Policy and the National Governing Bodies, which now protect playing fields specifically. This "planning balance" argument was tried by Quantum and their team of leading barristers and consultants at the Udney Park Public Inquiry and was wholly dismissed by the Planning Inspector.
10) Covenants on the Transfer Deeds from Imperial Colleges' acquisition and disposal of the Park.
In summary, our professional advice is unequivocal, there is not the “development potential” on Udney Park that Savills suggest. Seven years into this battle, the community is prepared to fight for 7 more years if necessary to protect Udney Park.
Frankly, in this era of Environment, Social and Governance reporting, any buyer whose aim is to absorb precious public resources in a long and futile planning application should think again. Savills slogan is "Don't rely on luck. Rely on Savills". After multiple emphatic rulings that improved the protection of Udney Park at the High Court and three different Planning Inspectors, you can rely on the Teddington community to heavily fight any plans that do not restore Udney Park as a much needed community-owned playing-fields in perpetuity, as Lord Beaverbrook intended.
We are delighted that after 7 years of planning battles with clear conclusions at every stage that Udney Park is a community playing field, a funded community bid has emerged, backed by Sport England and the CEO's of the RFU and the ECB. We urge Quantum to work with the community to find a brand-enhancing exit".
The community bid to buy Udney Park has been launched
The Friends of Udney Park was formed to save Udney Park from being lost to speculative residential building, and formed the Udney Park Playing Fields Trust in order to raise funds for the legal battle that ensued. The Public Inquiry heard the important evidence that an alternative viable solution for Udney Park to be owned and run by the community existed. We are delighted to confirm that a year on from the Public Inquiry that comprehensively refused permission to build on Udney Park, the Udney Park Community Fields Trust has been launched with committed funding to acquire Udney Park under the Asset of Community Value disposal process. This new Trust set up to acquire and run Udney Park and protect it forever is led by local resident and Chair of Thamesians RFC, Jonathan Dunn. Thamesians RFC are joined by Hearts FC and Teddington RFC in a unifying bid to make a compelling case for a graceful exit by Quantum. The bid is now up and running and more details about who is involved, the business plan, can all be found here: http://www.udneypark.co.uk/
It is so exciting after the community has fought for 7 years to save Udney Park, that a compelling bid has emerged to secure Udney Park permanently as a community playing field.
Richmond Council has approved the Teddington Society’s recent nomination of Udney Park as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This replaces the original ACV which was expiring soon. The ACV covers the playing fields, war memorial pavilion and car park as they are indivisible in terms of Udney Park serving the community.
Udney Park already been permanently designated as a Local Green Space and the Planning Inspector at the 2020 Public Inquiry was unequivocal that Udney Park War Memorial Playing Field is not suitable for any development, based on it's recreational, ecological and heritage value to the community. The Council have firmly re-stated that their Planning advice is very strong in terms of protecting Udney Park, per the Local Plan and London Plan.
The range of legal protections on Udney Park should ensure the future of Park is as a community facility, owned by a Charitable Trust and run by local people. Since 2015 when Imperial College sold to Quantum, "Environmental, Social and Governance" matters are now central to financial decision-making so the idea of speculating to build on a playing field with 9 protected species is now unethical.
“We are pleased that our ACV request has been successful, and we hope this will contribute to all of the playing fields soon becoming permanently accessible for community sport” said Keith Atkinson, leader of the Teddington Society Planning Group.
Quantum have triggered the Asset of Community Value (“ACV”) moratorium period. This means that legally there must be a maximum 6 month window to sell to a community bidder, as defined in the ACV Legislation. The Trust will continue to campaign for Udney Park to be owned and managed by the local community and then protected in perpetuity by the Fields in Trust Centenary Fields project. Lord Beaverbrook played a pivotal part in defending Britain in World War 2, the only morally acceptable outcome for Udney Park is a community playing field for "amateur sport" as Beaverbrook enshrined in covenants when he donated the Park.
Through the ACV sale process, the UPPF Trust remain fully committed to ensuring a community-based group acquires permanent ownership of Udney Park, in a spirit of partnership with the departing owners who pride themselves on "community engagement" and state that “through our actions we will make real difference that creates a sustainable, positive legacy”
In 2015, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, said in Mayor’s Questions:
“The London Plan policy is absolutely clear that you cannot have a loss of open space. I note that Udney Park was donated by Lord Beaverbrook specifically for use as rugby union pitches. It would be an absolute scandal and an outrage if Udney Park was lost for that purpose”.
The Teddington community will fight for as long as it takes to get the only morally defendable outcome on Udney Park.
In order to secure the future, following advice from local Councillors, the The Teddington Society has taken legal soundings on the mechanism of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) by the Council followed by a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) funded by the Community at zero cost to the Council.
Richmond Council has obligations to provide playing pitch capacity in the Local Plan and has in the past successfully acquired a playing field via a CPO. If the Asset of Community Value process fails to deliver a community-owned asset for all of Imperial College Sportsground as the ACV legislation is designed for, then the CPO/CAT option becomes the next step in the battle for Udney Park.
People live in Teddington for a life-time, 6 years have been wasted over the future of Udney Park since Imperial College sold to Quantum. We will fight for 6 more years if necessary though we hope that common sense prevails and that Udney Park is back in charitable ownership before 2022, its Centenary year.
May 2020 Update
Udney Park saved at Public Inquiry
In May 2020 after a 14-day Public Inquiry the Planning Inspectorate comprehensively rejected the Quantum scheme to build on part of Udney Park. Quantum hired leading "A-list" Barristers, Solicitors, Planning Consultants and other Experts. The Council protected Udney Park as playing fields and precious green space exactly as the legally binding Local Plan demands. Sport England and the England & Wales Cricket Board also had their own Barrister and expert witnesses.
The Teddington Society and Udney Park Trust hired their own Barrister, Planning Consultant and Ecology Expert. The arguments made by the Council, Sport England and the Community comprehensively won the day despite the expensively assembled Appeal by Quantum, running to 90,000 pages. The Inspectors' Report was clear and comprehensive, Udney Park is protected open land and is not suitable for any residential development.
As well as Board-level focus from Sport England to avoid the terrible precedent of losing a protected playing field, the Public Inquiry also saw contributions from two other national statutory bodies. Firstly, Heritage England weighed in because Udney Park is a War Memorial with a notable Pavilion designed by a notable architect that featured in the 1924 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Natural England also submitted a statement to the Inquiry given the special ecology of Udney Park, no less than 9 protected species are present at Udney Park in an ecology network of local SSSIs. Udney Park is currently being evaluated for a Heritage listing and as a Site of Metropolitan Interest for Nature Conservation
Udney Park is protected by multiple statutory designations. It is an Asset of Community Value, which imposes measures on an sale process by Quantum designed to enable a transfer of ownership to the community. Udney Park is Local Green Space, protected in law to level of Green Belt. This is a very high threshold of protection, especially in the case of Udney Park as the status of Local Green Space was bestowed after a High Court case and a senior Planning Inspector making the designation, not the Local Authority. Udney Park is also Open Land of Townscape Importance, another important protection against any form of built development. The London Mayor also made strong representations against the Quantum Application and as part of London's National Park City status the Mayor has prevented loss of playing fields across London.
WHO ARE WE?
We are the Friends of Udney Park Playing Fields, a group of people from across Teddington, Richmond Borough and beyond.
When we heard that Imperial College were planning to sell these fields we came together to try to influence the sale process so that these much-loved and much-needed playing fields were preserved.
We were devastated when Imperial went back on their commitment not to sell to a developer. We have never doubted that any plan for development will ultimately fail, and we shall fight for Udney Park to be restored in full to community ownership.