A FINAL decision that will determine what will become of London GAA’s former home in New Eltham is due by mid-May following a public inquiry earlier this month.
The 13-acre site off Avery Hill Road in south east London has been lying derelict since 1992 and has been the subject of a long legal battle between multiple parties.
In 2001, Irish-backed company Novalong paid the GAA, the freeholder of the property, £500,000 for the option to develop the grounds, with the proviso of another £5.5million if planning permission was granted.
In 2007, then Secretary of State Ruth Kelly rejected a planning proposal submitted by Novalong that would have seen around 260 new homes built on the property, one of about 15 planning applications made on the site going back as far as 1968.
After having planning permission denied, a breakdown in communication led to Novalong filing a £3.5m lawsuit against the GAA’s four trustees of New Eltham in 2012, citing a lack of co-operation with the terms of their agreement.
That debacle was eventually settled out of court, but still Novalong are yet to obtain planning permission on the site, which has only recently had the GAA’s old pavilion and timber changing rooms demolished.
A revised application was submitted at the end of 2014, which would see around 160 homes built on the site which can accommodate three football pitches, but it was once again denied.
However, an appeal against the latest rejection was subsequently lodged early last year, the outcome of which will finally be announced by Inspector Brian Sims in the next three weeks as a result of the inquiry, which took two weeks to complete earlier this month.
Significantly, his decision will be final and will effectively determine whether the grounds – which used to attract large crowds of spectators during London GAA’s heyday – will become a building site or a renovated sports ground for the public’s use.
Local resident Malcolm Bond, chairman of Raged Residents – a group of campaigners who have been voicing their support for the site to be restored for recreational use throughout the whole affair – is fairly confident Inspector Sims will make a decision that will favour his neighbourhood.
“We believe if he follows planning law that he will reject the appeal,” he told The Irish Post, although he’s still aggrieved at the site being out of use for so long.
“They (Novalong) stopped all of this from being what it should be, which is sports facilities and recreational facilities. There were people who wanted to put that on the site with an application in 2009, which was completely ignored and rebuffed, but there is now a full scale approved planning application to put the site back into recreational use.
“So, if anything, the argument in favour of restoring it to its former glory is stronger now than it’s ever been.”
GAA Director General Paraic Duffy is one of four trustees of New Eltham along with Michael Dermot O’Brian, Seamus Howlin and Jimmy O’Gorman, but it is understood the Association is contractually bound not to speak publicly about the situation.
“The GAA can’t change anything now, either way,” added Mr Bond. “The inspector, in the next few weeks, will come out completely independently, all on his own, and publish his decision, and that’s it, finished.”
A spokesperson on behalf of Croke Park said they had “nothing to add” when contacted by The Irish Post.