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DULWICH HAMLET’S fight for survival has received a major boost, with Southwark Council approving plans to buy the land on which the team’s Champion Hill stadium sits.
The south London non-league club, second in the Isthmian Premier League, were evicted from their ground last week by US-based property investment fund Meadow, which bought the land in 2014.
Meadow claims Dulwich Hamlet owes more than £120,000 in rent and has breached the terms of their licence to use the ground, but in reality the investors’ dispute is more with the council than the club, as the local authority has repeatedly blocked its plans to redevelop the site with posh flats and a new home for the club.
That dispute took a dramatic turn with Hamlet’s eviction, a decision compounded by Meadow telling the club it can no longer use its trademarked name and logo.
But Hamlet’s prospects improved when league rivals Tooting & Mitcham stepped in to offer them the use of their ground eight miles away until the end of the season and now the council has taken a big step to breaking the deadlock with Meadow.
Southwark, which has a target of 35 per cent “affordable” housing in any development, will now make Meadow an offer for the land based on market rates and, if that is rejected, it will start proceedings for a compulsory purchase order (CPO).
Meadow, which paid almost £6 million for the site, has already rejected a £10m bid from Rio Ferdinand’s affordable housing company Legacy Foundation and is understood to be gearing up to fight the CPO.
Former West Ham, Manchester United and England star Ferdinand grew up in nearby Peckham and his property investment fund is backed by fellow footballers Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora.
A source at the foundation said it would be willing to work with Southwark on the redevelopment, as it is already doing with Wirral Council on its dockside regeneration scheme.
In a statement following the council’s decision on Tuesday, Southwark Council leader Peter John said it was about “delivering much-needed housing in Southwark and securing the future of Dulwich Hamlet, which we all feel passionate about.”
Thomas Cullen, a spokesman for the club, said: “It’s been an incredibly difficult time for the club and our fans and to have the support of the council gives us some hope things can be resolved.”
Hamlet, despite its current plight, are one of the best-supported teams in non-league football and have a reputation for developing talent.
They are only one point behind leaders Folkestone Invicta with two games in hand, but big-budget Billericay Town are just two points further back with a remarkable seven games in hand.
This suggests Hamlet are heading to the play-offs for a fourth straight year, with a place in the sixth-tier National League South at stake, but much depends on the council’s ability to force Meadow to back down or sell up.
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