'Worst stadium in the world': Tensions high as campaigners clash over future of Wimbledon dog track (From Richmond and Twickenham Times)
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'Worst stadium in the world': Tensions high as campaigners debate future of Plough Lane Wimbledon Stadium
Emotions ran high at a public hearing as two sides today went head-to-head to fight for the Wimbledon greyhound venue.
Campaigners in favour of regenerating the site as a £60m greyhound racing stadium said they are fighting for survival of their beloved sport, whereas AFC Wimbledon supporters hope the inspector will rule in their favour.
Dozens of supporters of both bids packed into the Merton Council chamber this morning to hear the cases put forward to independent inspector Robert Yuille.
In an outburst at the hearing, businessman Paschal Taggart made his position clear.
Mr Taggart said: "I am a businessman and greyhounds are a hobby.
"I don't have the need to keep greyhound racing going but it is important to me.
"Galliard Homes as the owners of the site have purposely run it into the ground. It is the worst stadium in the world.
"This track is a disgrace."
Representatives from the developer did not respond to the claims that were acknowledged by the inspector, but instead it was clarified that the site was owned by both Galliard Homes and Risk Capital.
In a dramatic twist, several new documents were presented to the hearing, prompting a number of short adjournments while the letters were read and responded to by all parties.
One of the documents was an emailed statement from Sir Edward Lister, deputy Mayor for planning. The statement was a response to a request for comment by The Racing Post. It read: "The Mayor has always been of the opinion that Wimbledon Stadium should remain a greyhound racing venue.
"However, if this is not viable, he would accept the site being used for other stadia-based sport, as long as it is in line with strategic planning policy."
The hearing lasted for several hours, and centred around concerns raised over the impact on the area, flooding concerns and transport issues.
Exchanges between the two parties have at times been heated since plans to transform the historic facilities were announced last year, and this continued at the hearing.
A campaign group called We Want Wimbledon (WWW) was set up to support Irish business magnate Mr Taggart's plans for a £60m revamp to transform the stadium into the "Royal Ascot of dog racing."
Meanwhile, AFC Wimbledon fans were handed a manifesto of the club's ambitious plans to build a £16m stadium that they claim would allow the club to return to its spiritual home.
Lawrence Blunt of WWW said: "We are here fighting for the survival of the sport.
"Crayford and Romford are small stadiums and the loss of this stadium will have a serious impact on the sport of greyhound racing in England and Ireland and I can see it being the start of the death of our sport."
A decision is expected to be made public in April.
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