Fulham Football Club's plans to build an all-seater stadium at Craven Cottage have been delayed by at least twelve months. The project will not now be completed in time for the start of the 2003/2004 season as had originally been intended.
Therefore the Club has announced that it will ground share with Queen's Park Rangers at their Loftus Road ground for two seasons instead of the planned one season.
The delay has been forced on Fulham by a small group of local residents who have mounted a stalling campaign deliberately designed to prevent the project going ahead. Their protracted legal action challenged the Secretary of State's decision not to call in the club's planning application for his own determination.
The High Court dismissed that challenge in January and refused permission to appeal. But the residents' group sought further leave to appeal which was refused by a different judge in March. The application was renewed twelve days later - an action which has caused further delay.
And today the High Court has granted the protestors leave to appeal leaving Fulham no choice but postpone the exciting development.
It is now over a year since the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham gave the club planning permission to redevelop the Craven Cottage ground.
Fulham intended to begin works on the site immediately after the last home game of the season against Leicester City this Saturday. That programme would have ensured that the club spend only one season away from its home groundsharing with QPR.
Fortunately the club concluded an agreement with QPR earlier this year which allows for the extension of the groundshare into a second season.
In view of the enforced delay it is now hoped to commence on-site work in early autumn this year allowing 19 months for the construction programme. But any further delay caused by the ongoing appeal process might jeopardise the revised plan to have the new stadium built in time for the start of the 2004/2005 season.
The projected six-month delay in commencing building work is estimated to cost the club a further £3m.
Last night Fulham's acting managing director, Mark Collins said: "On behalf of the Club I want to apologise to our fans for this unavoidable and unacceptable delay.
"It is a disgrace that a tiny minority can spoil the enjoyment of the majority in this cynical way by employing delaying tactics.
"We are all bitterly disappointed. The Chairman and everyone associated with the running of the Club are determined that Fulham will play in a state-of the art stadium fitting for the exciting brand of football that we play.
"Ultimately we will build a stadium suitable to meet the aspirations of the team and the Club."
End of Era Up-date
With the unresolved legal position, the Club has no choice but to delay all redevelopment works to the Stadium in the short term.
This means that we cannot commence with any of the demolition planned for the summer and consequently will are not currently able to fulfil the sale of memorabilia from the site.
We have stopped taking orders for any items that were originally on offer, other than for the celebratory book of the history of football at Craven Cottage, for which orders are still being processed.
Please be assured that we will be contacting all supporters that have written to us very shortly to further explain our position.
We do apologise for any disappointment that this may cause but it is completely out of the Club's control. If the development works are delayed for any great length of time, the Club may be in a position where it can utilise the ground for other purposes and delay these items being available further. However, in-line with the Taylor report and the Premier league guidelines, it is not an option for any 1st Team football to be played at Craven Cottage, as it currently stands, again.
Therefore, the End of Era celebrations will still commence this weekend as planned as we do hope that you will join us in celebrating with us and saying goodbye to top flight football at Craven Cottage.