A Brief History Of Wealdstone’s Legacy At Prince Edward Playing Fields
Written by Nick DuGard, Press Officer at Wealdstone FC. The views expressed in this article are the views of the writers, and are in no way representative of the club.
Since being forced to leave their old Lower Mead home in 1991, the club and its supporters had always sought to be in a position to afford the building of a new home stadium within the London Borough of Harrow where they had been based since the birth of Wealdstone FC in 1899. After enduring finance sapping ground shares at Watford FC, Yeading and Edgware this plan finally found substance when a suitable site was found at the Prince Edward Playing Fields (PEPF) in Canons Park, Harrow, a facility which had fallen into complete disuse and disrepair.
The Stones Board first set about starting a project to find a suitable piece of land and originally sat down with Harrow Council members in 1994 whilst at Yeading to start this lengthy process.
After an initial unsuccessful attempt to gain planning permission at available land at the Ridgeway in North Harrow, the search continued for a suitable site and planning permission for a new stadium. The club finally settled on attempting to gain planning at the derelict grounds at PEPF that had recently become available when the gates were locked due to lack of funding by the then owners, London Borough of Camden. The large grounds had undoubted great potential not only for a new stadium but extensive community facilities on its 44 acres.
It eventually took a staggering 10 years of sustained political lobbying and dogged behind the scenes work for Stones to finally obtain all the necessary planning permissions and build finance via a development partner. But this end result had often seemed an almost impossible task during very challenging periods when it would have been far easier for Wealdstone’s Board to throw in the towel completely.
The club set up the Prince Edward Playing Field Trust that included community sports partners and had a complex task of gaining support and planning permissions from various authorities such as The London Playing Fields Society, the Sports Council and the Government Office for London as well as LB Harrow who also had to transfer ownership of the site. At one point the Vice Chairman of Wealdstone FC met with the then Sports Minister ,Kate Hoey, at Whitehall to gain support for the project along with local MP Tony McNulty who had supported the project from the start as part of his election manifesto. All of this detailed work involved the employment of architects and numerous professional planning and development consultants; applications for partial funding from the National Lottery, who had already turned down an earlier grant application which was an undoubted low point for the project and could have scuppered it completely. A new, scaled down, application to the Lottery was eventually successful.
By the time construction started at PEPF, Wealdstone had put some £300,000 of its own monies into the project.
Construction finally began in 2003, but the project began to be hindered by various problems and the building work was halted completely in 2004, when the private company paying the builders (Wealdstone’s development partners) unfortunately went into liquidation, something completely outside of the control of the club. When work stopped the grounds had already been transformed with the extensive outside pitches levelled and a new 3,000 capacity stadium 70% built.
In 2006 Harrow Council eventually put the unfinished ground up for tender and Barnet won the bid as Stones had insufficient resources to make a bid themselves although they did work with one of the other bidders. Throughout all of this Wealdstone have retained the right to play in the completed stadium under the terms of the lease now re-assigned to Barnet (once held by Wealdstone FC of course who had been granted a long lease). This fact was confirmed this June at a residents consultation meeting at PEPF by a Council Director.
The Wealdstone Board have had previous talks with Barnet Chairman Tony Kleanthous over using the stadium (once completed), but the Barnet Chairman has insisted on terms that would make Wealdstone’s tenure unsustainable as no income would be available from the social facilities or any part of the site so it would be no more than a very expensive ground share. No recompense has ever been agreed for Wealdstone’s massive investment in the site to get it to the point where Barnet could move in and further develop the grounds.
In the meantime homeless Stones, virtually on their knees with crowds dwindling and no real income source, were playing at Northwood in yet another ground share, moved into Ruislip Manor where an opportunity had arisen following an offer from the owner of that club. Stones subsequently took over the Ruislip Manor social club and ground where they have a short term lease, but could be homeless again in 2018 if the lease is not renewed by the landlords who have so far shown no indication that they intend to do so.
In effect Stones had spent 10 years finding, planning, lobbying, funding and partly completing a football facility for absolutely naught, zilch, and zero. Is it any wonder that Wealdstone supporters and those close to the club are a little emotional about the current situation? Wealdstone’s toil and dogged effort seems to have been all but forgotten. Barnet however are lauded for this great new facility now known as ‘The Hive’ by Harrow Council, as they now prepare to move their League two side in to PEPF. This change to the lease conditions is due to be ratified by Harrow Council’s Cabinet on July 19th 2012.
This is indeed an ironic situation not lost on the supporters of both clubs – a Club from outside the Borough of Harrow, being forced into it, will now be a replacing a side being forced to play outside of it’s traditional home of Harrow.