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SBD Global/April 28, 2014/Facilities

Marylebone Cricket Club's Battle Over Lord's Cricket Ground Continues

As recently as the '90s, the Marylebone Cricket Club "still, to an extent, retained its historic role of running cricket," according to Matthew Engel of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Even now, "having lost that empire, the club still writes the laws of the game, still has influence," and its home, Lord’s Cricket Ground, is recognized as the "world's pre-eminent cricket ground." For the past 15 years, those with a "sharp ear may have been able to detect a faint rumble, like the sound of a train in a tunnel deep underground." And that is "exactly what the rumble is about: the ownership of three railway tunnels." These tunnels "convulsed Lord’s once before, far more publicly." In 1890 the company that became the Great Central Railway tried to "acquire Lord’s so it could run its trains north out of Marylebone station." After a "huge rumpus, the lines were built underground." The Great Central was a "flop from the start." In '66, it "fell victim" to former British Railways Chair Dr Beeching's axe. One tunnel "remains in use for commuter trains; the other two became redundant and lay there until British Rail was privatised, whereupon the new owners, Railtrack, saw the chance to sell them" and in '99 offered Lord’s a "long-term lease on its stretch." MCC was "cautious; you might say unbelievably stupid." It made "only a halfhearted offer, so Railtrack opted for an auction, where the club was outbid by a property company, the Rifkind Levy Partnership, which secured a 999-year lease" on a 38-meter strip of land running the length of Lord’s for £2.35M, and the "right to develop the two disused tunnels." Charles Rifkind, one of the partners, was "also ambitious: he saw all kinds of possibilities above ground and below; MCC could not even see the importance of securing its own space." Rifkind: "I saw it as a development opportunity for the benefit of cricket. I saw what they hadn’t seen. I’ve lived in the area for 30 years. I’ve walked past it for 30 years. This was a natural asset, it was obvious." In '06, MCC estates committee Chair Maurice de Rohan, "a visceral opponent of any dealings with Rifkind, died." Newer blood "came on to the committee." There was also a "sparky" new MCC CEO, Keith Bradshaw, an "Australian without any institutional memory." He had "lunch with Rifkind; they got on." What "emerged three years later" was "The Vision," a radical £400M plan "produced by another set of outsiders," the Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron. The plan was driven by a "new development subcommittee chaired by a zestful Welsh QC, Robert Griffiths, and including two former England captains plus one former prime minister, Sir John Major" (FT, 4/25).
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