Alternative bid submitted for Udney Park playing fields.

It is hugely disappointing to report that Udney park is now under offer from another group of investors headed up by local resident, Keith Williams.

Udney Park is an Asset of Community Value, defined in the Localism Act (2011) as "Land is an asset of community value if its main use is to further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community." The Localism Act states that ‘social interests’ include cultural, recreational and sporting interests

The Foundation is an ACV-compliant owner. Mr Williams is a for-profit operating model and therefore is not. The Localism Act was coalition legislation, Udney Park is precisely the type of location that ACV was designed to protect.

The Foundation has written to Mr Williams asking him to withdraw from the bidding process but to no avail. He has been provided with a weeks grace to reconsider.

To be entirely transparent the Foundation has also written an open letter to our local MP, Munira Wilson copying in the representative of the current owner, Tony Zhu, and Mr Williams clearly setting out the Foundations position. Various parts of this correspondence have been redacted at the request of My Williams who wishes the price he proposes to pay, and the names of various stakeholders to remain private. What he will not explain is how he is going to generate an annual surplus of £350k for his investor group if the fields are for genuine community use.

As I conclude in this correspondence, I fervently hope that both Mr Williams and Mr Zhu reflect and that we do not face another lengthy period of delay whilst these community fields remain sterile and another plan for investor enrichment goes through the scrutiny of the planners. Meanwhile sporting clubs struggle for pitches at a time when there is a huge focus on the importance of mental and physical health.

Dear Munira.

 Thank you for clarifying your position. I would just like to underline a few points.

 Clearly community sports projects carry significant costs beyond just the acquisition of the land. At Udney Park there will be -

  • significant facility capital costs because of the deterioration to the original changing rooms housed within the pavilion and the need to remediate the fields, tennis courts and cricket square.
  • huge life cycle costs to keep the facility open and fit for purpose.

 All of this has been costed into the proposal prepared by the Foundation.

 Local government currently spends £1.1billion per year on sport, leisure, parks, and green spaces, etc. The proposal by the Foundation is self -financed without the call on local authority money but at the same time it will not be able to produce any trading surplus. The hire of community pitches is £125 per match so making a profit is not a realistic proposition.

The donors funding the land acquisition on behalf of the Foundation (including myself) are doing this for philanthropic reasons not to benefit from some sort of tax scheme as has been suggested by Mr Williams. There is no expectation that these donations will ever be returned. What is clear is that if Udney Park is to be preserved as community sports fields, there can be no annual surplus to pay back investors. Community sport has limited income streams and to indicate otherwise to investors or anyone else would be misleading – particularly at a level of £350k pa. as suggested by Mr Williams. To fund this sort of pay-back the aspiration for community sport will have to be compromised by a commercial venture of some sort.

 We have been down this route before. When Quantum proposed luxury flats, the community balance was to build a GP surgery and an under-size 4G floodlight rugby pitch. There are plenty of brownfield sites and empty offices for a surgery to be built locally. I believe that you have tried to help achieve this outcome from the sale of Teddington Police Station. The buildings at Udney Park are required for community use and changing rooms. The fully fenced and floodlight 4G pitch proposed by Quantum would have been an eyesore and a disturbance to everyone.

 I appreciate that Mr Williams has delivered a substantial residential scheme on the Beorma project at Digbeth in Birmingham, and in doing so there has been a commercial return to the Kuwaiti investors that he represents. This business model should not be applied to Udney Park. I believe that if any investor is seeking a commercial return in Richmond or any other borough, there are many opportunities to do so that do not involve a commercial development on playing fields.

 Mr Williams approached me last week with a couple of unsolicited calls to my office, but before this his name, contact details, investor background, and outlines of his proposal were already in the public domain. The local Trust had already tried to contact him at his address in REDACTED and had his telephone number. Various people in the property world knew of his intentions. I do not intend revealing the names of the various stakeholders that he suggested would be working with him – REDACTED – but I will be loudly opposing this plan. 

I have asked Mr Williams to confirm that he will withdraw from this process. I appreciate that my opposition has excited an angry response, but hopefully on reflection he will give this some thought.  

Equally my emails reflect a degree of emotion. This arises from many years of trying to bring together a community solution, and my passion to see community sport return to these fields.

Taking all the emotion out of this the key questions are –

  • How can this facility fund an annual return to investors of £350k each year?
  • What space will be left for community sport?
  • What costs will be charged for the sports facilities that are envisaged?

It is reasonable to ask for some transparency rather than insist that nobody makes a public comment.

 I remain available to meet Mr Wu’s representatives to seek a solution. I know that he seeks a sporting legacy having played badminton at the highest level so I am sure that he can appreciate my motivation is this.’

Other recent news

Pavilion Building allowed to fall apart

Pavilion Building allowed to fall apart

Posted on 7th Jun 2024

The tragedy of the War Memorial Pavilion has been revealed by arial photos taken by residents. These reveal that under the ownership of Mr Wu the building has fallen into such disrepair as to render future renovation work hugely expensive. The project had been to bring the changing rooms back into early use for the community clubs playing on these fields. There were relatively new boilers and heating systems installed just before Imperial College sold the site. The building interior had been dry – even if the changing rooms needed to be brought up to modern standards.

Planning noose tightens at Udney Park.

Planning noose tightens at Udney Park.

Posted on 22nd May 2024

Quantum spent £4m trying to overcome the planning restrictions at Udney Park playing fields before selling the site against a backdrop of total losses of around £6.5m. Since their sale of the land two years ago to Mr Wu, planning restrictions have continued to be tightened.