Battle over rail tunnels at Lord's cricket ground rumbles on

As England's players prepare to step out at Lord's for the second Test against India, they will be unaware of a long-running wrangle rumbling away not far below their feet.

It is a saga that stretches back nearly two decades, and involves a dispute over a narrow strip of land at the edge of the historic complex in north London known as "the home of cricket".

The stretch of land, measuring 200m by 38m (656ft by 125ft) at the Nursery End of the Lord's site, sits above disused Victorian railway tunnels.

And that area has been at the heart of a tussle between the ground's owners - Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) - and the owner of the lease on that strip of land, property developer Charles Rifkind.

'Hotly debated'

After being frustrated by the MCC in his plans to develop the site over the past two decades, Mr Rifkind has teamed up with property consortium New Commonwealth - headed by developer entrepreneur Johnny Sandelson - to look at selling off portions of the land.

"We have had lots of interest, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, who see Lord's as a special place in their hearts," says Mr Sandelson, adding that there have been 10,000 strong expressions of interest.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES/ALLSPORT UK Image caption The New Commonwealth consortium is being fronted by former England captain David Gower

Mr Sandelson is now working with financial regulators to get the all-clear to sell bits off in around nine months' time. Shares in the land will be sold via tokens called Lordscoins, which will be traded via blockchain technology.

But there is a catch.

Although the MCC does not own the tunnels, or any development rights to the land on top, it does have a sub-lease on the top 18 inches of the land - which runs until 2137.

And that makes property development impossible for another 119 years at the earliest.

Image copyright NEW COMMONWEALTH Image caption New Commonwealth hopes to attract cricket fans from around the globe to invest

"It is obviously a long-term asset. But people's grandchildren can have extraordinary development opportunities right in the middle of St John's Wood," says Mr Sandelson.

"We are democratising real-estate ownership."

Auction sale

The drama began on 9 November 1999, when Railtrack - which at the time controlled the UK's railway infrastructure - told the MCC that the main lease on the strip of land above the 1890s tunnels would be sold at a public auction a month later.

It also invited the club to make a pre-auction offer for this main lease.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption The Nursery Ground and pavilions above the rail tunnels can be seen at the back of the photos, behind the media centre

But negotiations in the month leading up to the deadline were unsuccessful, and the land and 999-year lease were bought at auction by Mr Rifkind for £2,350,000 - above what the MCC said it could afford.

The club had just completed two major capital building projects - the Grand Stand and the Media Centre - which had depleted its cash reserves.

"Not buying the tunnels was a blindingly obvious mistake," says writer Matthew Engel, a former editor of the cricketing bible Wisden, and someone who has followed the story closely.

"This is a tale of immense complexity. I don't know if it will ever be satisfactorily resolved."

Image copyright MCC Image caption How the MCC plans to redevelop the Nursery End and move the Nursery Ground

Mr Rifkind's plans - to build 94 flats on the space - were rebuffed last year when MCC members voted for their own redevelopment scheme, or "Lord's Masterplan", for the ground.

The MCC plan involves the redevelopment of the Nursery End by removing temporary pavilions currently situated over the railway tunnels, and moving the existing Nursery Ground cricket pitch down over this space.

Building the Lord's railway tunnels

Image copyright LEICESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Image caption The construction of the tunnels beneath Lord's Cricket Ground in the 1890s

In the 1890s the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway opted to build the new Great Central Railway directly beneath Lord's Cricket Ground in St Johns Wood. The cricketers were promised a brand new pitch, and the photograph above shows construction work in progress.

The tunnels were built between 1894 and 1898 by the cut-and-cover method, rather than boring. In the picture the wooden centrings are in place and the brick courses are being built up. The scale of the work can be judged by the group of navvies gathered in the bottom right of the picture.

When finished, the area was covered over and the new cricket pitch laid.

'Control of our destiny'

"There was a very long, bruising and robust debate over a number of years which was concluded when the membership overwhelmingly voted for a Lord's redevelopment via our own resources," says MCC chief executive Guy Lavender.

"There have been a number of different thoughts about what is needed, but the masterplan puts the club and cricket at its heart. We have control of our own destiny, to develop in our own way."

Guy Lavender, chief executive of the MCC

Image copyright PATRICK EAGAR Image caption MCC chief Guy Lavender says there has been a robust debate about the strip of land over the years

Mr Rifkind's development proposal came with the offer of a £100m letter of credit for the MCC.

"This has been an area of some discussion," says Mr Lavender. "However, we can afford to develop the ground at a pace we can afford. We are not dependent on the £100m to develop the ground in the way we want.

"We have got good revenue generation, and will continue to do so. We will now get on with our first phase, redeveloping the Compton and Edrich Stands."

'Common ground'

Meanwhile, the MCC says it is sanguine about plans to cash in on the Nursery Ground land.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Image caption The MCC has a masterplan to redevelop the Lord's ground in a number of different phases

"It doesn't impact on us," Mr Lavender says. "In 119 years' time, if that situation hasn't changed, then that small strip of land will cease to be a part of Lord's and we will have a smaller Nursery Ground.

"We continue to meet Mr Rifkind to discuss a range of issues. If we find some common ground, we would consider making him an offer at a price we could agree on. But that is not the case at present."

'Missed opportunity'

Matthew Engel says that despite 20 years of soaring property prices in the St John's Wood area, the MCC has not financially benefited from it.

"As a property developer Mr Rifkind saw a place at Lord's that was not being developed, and wanted to do it," he says. "He saw the ugly wall at the edge of Lord's, and unused space, and thought that - to mutual advantage - he could make something of it. But the opportunity has been missed [by the MCC]."

Image copyright IAN KINGTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES Image caption The land at the centre of the issue is on the other side of this wall in Wellington Road, St John's Wood

And the cricket writer says he does not think the plan to sell off portions of the land will resolve matters.

"I think the moment for compromise or agreement has passed," he says. "It will be a very long time before we have any conclusion to this issue, if at all."
railtunnels Battle
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
3 views in june
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

An EE customer has said she was stalked by an ex-partner who worked at the firm, after he accessed her personal data without permission. Francesca Bonafede's number was switched to a new handset and her address and bank details were accessed. She said the company failed to take the data breach seriously and she had to involve police. EE "sincerely apologised" to Ms Bonafede, and said the employee no longer worked for the company. 'They didn't seem concerne...
West Ham say they have handed over all of their evidence to the police after completing a "thorough and immediate" investigation into racist abuse shouted at Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. The incident happened during Monday's 1-1 draw at London Stadium. Egypt striker Salah, 26, was filmed on a mobile phone from a section of home supporters as he was taking a corner. "The club is unequivocal in its stance - such abuse will not be tolerated," West Ham said in a...
A body seen in the wreckage of the plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson has been recovered, investigators said. Remotely operated Vehicles (ROVs) were used in ‘challenging conditions’ to pull the body out of the water ‘in as dignified a way as possible’ the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said on Wednesday night. The body is being taken to Portland to be passed over to the Dorset coroner for examination, t...
The US president, who has repeatedly criticised the military alliance, would meet with heads of state in London, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced on Wednesday. It would be Mr Trump's second visit to Britain since his election, having jetted in amid swathes of protest last July. I am pleased to announce that allies have agreed that the next meeting of Nato heads of state and government will take place in London in December 2019. The meeting...
Rolf Harris was jailed for five years and nine months in 2014 but released on licence in May 2017 Credit: PA Officials are investigating a report that disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris walked onto the grounds of a primary school and waved at pupils. The convicted sex offender went onto the premises of Oldfield Primary School near his home in Bray, Maidenhead, to talk to a sculptor working in the grounds, the Daily Mirror reported. Harris, who was jailed fo...
Two men have been arrested on suspicion of murder after a teenager was stabbed to death. Police and London Ambulance Service were called to Wolsey Court, off Westbridge Road in Battersea, at 7.52pm on Tuesday following reports of a stabbing. A 19-year-old man was found with stab injuries and died at the scene at 8.36pm despite paramedics battling to save his life. The stabbing took place less than half a mile from Prince George's primary school, Thomas's B...
The girl, who has been named Roman by nurses, was found at around 10pm on Thursday in the park in Roman Road in East Ham.  Police said Roman was wrapped in a white towel and placed in the shopping bag on the ground next to a bench in the small children's play park.  The baby was rushed to hospital where she was in a stable condition on Friday morning, the Metropolitan Police said.  Roman was discovered by grandmother-of-one Rima Zvaliauskiene, 50, just 100...
The operation to recover the doomed plane carrying Emiliano Sala off Guernsey could be hampered by days of poor weather as the man brought in by the footballer's family to find him said he could be in the wreckage. The English Channel is being battered by torrential ran, 40mph winds and 10ft waves with the poor conditions set to continue - and worsen - until the end of the week, MailOnline can reveal today. The families of the £15million striker and his pi...
Train passengers are being warned of major disruption after overhead electric wires were damaged near one of London’s busiest stations. Network Rail said services travelling to and from Liverpool Street could be cancelled or revised until 8am on Thursday. Wires between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green, east London, were damaged, with the outage impacting Greater Anglia, London Overground, Stansted Express and Transport for London Rail services. Passenger...