Cricket fans around the world are to be offered the chance to buy parcels of land at Lord’s, the home of the sport.
This remarkable opportunity to be launched on Wednesday will make possibly tens of thousands — or even more if the initiative is a success — part-owners of cricket’s iconic ground for a cost of £500-per-share.
The consortium, who will be selling shares in the strip of underground tunnels that stretch the entire Nursery End of the ground, is being led by former England captain and Sky cricket presenter David Gower and former MCC chief executive Keith Bradshaw.
Cricket fans will be able to buy land at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the home of the sport
Sky Sports TV presenter David Gower is behind the initiative to sell land at Lord’s
Other well known cricketers, including former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd and England batsman Alan Lamb, are expected to come out in support.
The scheme that is set to seriously divide the 18,000-strong MCC membership, one of sport’s most famous private clubs, has nothing to do with the Lord’s management as the land being sold is owned by property developer Charles Rifkind through his company Rifkind Associates.
And it is Rifkind’s Plan B after his ambitious blueprint for the Nursery End that would have paid MCC £150million was rejected by the MCC membership last September by a landslide margin of over 90 per cent in favour of the club going it alone out of their own resources without any property development funding.
That was seen by MCC as final closure in a civil war that has been ongoing since 1999 when Rifkind bought a 999-year lease on the two defunct railway line tunnels under Lord’s from Railtrack for £2.35m.
MCC chairman Gerald Corbett said of the vote: ‘This is an unequivocal outcome that closes the door on the residential debate. The club will now move on to update the MCC Masterplan.’
But just six months later Rifkind, rather than disappear to oversee other areas of his property empire, has smashed open the Lord’s door again to present the members as well as global lovers of cricket with another unprecedented option.
Rifkind calls it as a one-off opportunity to own an historic part of London which your grandchildren might benefit from.
Gower said: ‘Although I supported redevelopment at the Nursery End, this is not a protest or reaction to the members voting against it last September. I should like to have a friendly association with MCC. I want Lord’s to regain its status as the finest in the world.
‘There is no sense of confrontation from my point of view and if I receive any flak, it cannot be as bad as what occurred to me when we lost the Ashes in 1989.’
The big sell will be accompanied by a huge advertising campaign with those buying into the Nursery End through the consortium named www.NewCommonwealth.com receiving a cryptocurrency coin as proof of purchase.
Former MCC chief executive Keith Bradshaw, pictured in 2014, is also leading the consortium
It is a long-term property play however — more likely to benefit future family generations of investors — as Lord’s still have a 119-year lease on the top 18 inches of land above the tunnels.
However the belief is that if this project takes off, MCC will be forced to the negotiating table sooner rather than later by the sheer weight of numbers. And MCC members are likely to be offered a discounted price to buy a share or shares in the Nursery End.
Bradshaw, who shared Rifkind’s vision of a Lord’s super stadium paid for by property development, said: ‘Let us hope that the expected groundswell of opinion that accompanies the launch of this new “common wealth” will inspire the guardians of this great club to act, rather than witness another fallow and frustrating decade.
‘But those participating in the purchase should not be under any illusion: the long-term development rights are possible but negotiation with MCC is challenging and might well prove fruitless.’
Bradshaw had put forward a joint 50-50 plan with Rifkind to develop Lord’s in 2008 called the Vision that was never fully shared with membership – and was aborted by then chairman Oliver Stocken in 2009.
The frustration at having his ambitions blocked by the main MCC committee led to Bradshaw leaving Lord’s in 2011 and returning to Australia where he has been the leading figure as CEO of South Australian Cricket in turning the Adelaide Oval into one of the best multi-sports grounds in the world.
Bradshaw said: ‘If a different decision had been made in 2008, and the scheme, which had been unanimously supported by the MCC development committee, then including Sir John Major had been allowed to proceed, then Lord’s in 2018 would deservedly be sitting among the world’s best in class sporting venues.’
Former Prime minister Major resigned from the committee in protest at the murky MCC process that blocked the Vision getting off the ground.
The saga started in December 1999 when MCC, making the biggest blunder in the 231-year history of the club, were outbid by Rifkind for the leasehold of the tunnels.
It means that MCC are no longer masters of their own destiny at the Nursery End stretching 38 metres into the Lord’s complex, including over the grass boundary of the Nursery square. And when the Lord’s lease runs out then the future generations of Rifkinds can build what they like there subject to planning permission.
Currently MCC pay a rent off £156,000-a-year for the Nursery End on which a pre-fab style marquee can only host cricket-related events. And were Rifkind to start charging proper commercial rates for that part of London, then the annual cost to MCC would be over seven figures.
MCC chairman Gerald Corbett has previously been embroiled in a Lord’s land dispute
Years of in-fighting, with MCC refusing to co-operate with their partial landowner, led to the Morley Plan where Rifkind offered the club £150m in return for building 94 flats in two 10-storey buildings at the Nursery End. In addition there was the future promise of another £100m for developing the Pavilion End.
On becoming MCC chairman Corbett ordered a report into the Rifkind proposal compared to the MCC masterplan as well as five consultation evenings across the country. This culminated in that overwhelming vote against Rifkind who attracted just 748 in favour of his plan compared to the 7,163 against.
However Rifkind has wasted little time in returning to the fray – believing the election was heavily weighted towards rejecting his proposals. Rather than adopting a neutral stance, the main MCC committee recommended their own £194m piece-by-piece redevelopment of the ground by 2032 paid for by members and hosting Test matches.
This led Gower to write a letter to the Times about the ‘one-sided portrayal’ adding that the membership ‘are being led by red and yellow toe, blazer and cap-wearing sheep.’
Gower said on Tuesday: ‘I was offered the chance by the chairman, Gerald Corbett to apologise for using the word “sheep”. I declined.
‘I meant no disrespect to the members. If any members read all the literature , researched all the opportunities and cast his vote accordingly, that man knows he is not a sheep and need take no offence.
‘If any member merely accepted what the committee recommended without any further consideration then I am not embarrassed to call that man a sheep. I mean no disrespect to a membership which contains erudite figures. But half the members did not vote.’
Rifkind wasn’t even allowed to distribute his Morley Plan proposals at meetings meaning many members are still in the dark about his plans.
Security issues and a lack of affordable housing were pinpointed by the MCC report as two important issues against Rifkind. But he owns plenty of development land nearby Lord’s on which to meet all affordable housing commitments around redevelopment. And there are a lot more pressing security problems for MCC to consider.