Campaigners warn over future of Boat Race if Thames pier plans proceed

Oh row! Future of Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race ‘at risk’ over Fulham FC’s plans for 80-METRE pier to River Thames as part of £80million redevelopment (but don’t worry rowing contest IS returning this weekend)

  • Fulham’s redevelopment plan could ‘jeopardise’ iconic Oxford v Cambridge race
  • Campaigners and MP have warned of ‘disruptive and dangerous’ 80-metre pier 
  • Fulham FC owner Shahid Khan spent £5m buying a slice of the Thames in 2019  
  • Online petition to put a stop to plans has reached more than 5,000 signatures 

The future of the Boat Race could be at risk should a glamorous new pier be installed along a stretch of the Thames, ministers have been warned. 

Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, told the Commons that £80million plans to redevelop Fulham FC’s historic Craven Cottage stadium could be both disruptive and dangerous to those using the capital’s main waterway.

Campaigners fear that thousands of members of rowing and boating clubs could be affected by the plans that would see a new 80-metre pier and clipper ferry stop installed in rebuilding the 19th century ground’s Riverside Stand.

‘There are about 4,000 members across 41 clubs along the river who will be impacted, those 4,000 members use this stretch of the river on average about twice a week,’ Ms Anderson told her fellow MPs. 

An online petition to put a stop to the new pier has reached more than 5,000 signatures as campaigners warned the pier would be ‘dangerous’ and ‘significantly disrupt sporting activity’ on the Thames. 

Ms Anderson’s warning extended to the Boat Race, the historic competition held between Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Thousands are expected to line the River Thames this weekend as the annual race returns to London after two years of heavy disruption. 

Traditionally, the race starts at Putney before weaving along for 4.2miles and ending up river at Mortlake. 

Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage £80m redevelopment plans will see a glamorous new 80-metre pier installed that has sparked the ire of campaigners and MPs

Campaigners and an MP have warned £100million plans to redevelop Fulham FC’s historic Craven Cottage stadium could be both disruptive and dangerous to those using the capital’s main waterway. Pictured: Cambridge Women train on the Thames beside Craven Cottage

The River Thames is gearing up to host the 2022 Boat Race this weekend. Pictured: Cambridge celebrate winning the men’s boat race last year, their fourth win in the last five events

Thousands are expected to line the River Thames this weekend as the annual race returns after two years of heavy disruption. Pictured: Spectators crowd onto Hammersmith Bridge to watch the 165th Boat Race in April 2019

Fulham FC’s owner Shahid Khan spent £5million buying a slice of the Thames in 2019 as part of redevelopment plans for Craven Cottage, which is upriver from Putney Bridge.

The club are in the middle of expanding the Riverside Stand, built in 1896, under an £80m development that will increase the stadium’s capacity from 25,700 to 29,600.  

Speaking in 2019, Mr Khan said: ‘Make no mistake, the Riverside development will be a location like no other, a real game-changer for Fulham Football Club, our neighbourhood, and all of London. 

‘Our aim is to create a world-class destination for fans and guests to experience and enjoy, whilst retaining the charm that Craven Cottage exudes within our very own section of the River Thames. 

‘In doing so, we will also safeguard the Club’s future at Craven Cottage, forever the rightful home for Fulham.

Fleur Anderson (above), Labour MP for Putney, told the Commons that £80million plans to redevelop Fulham FC’s historic Craven Cottage stadium could be both disruptive and dangerous to those using the capital’s main waterway

The MP’s warning warning extended to the Boat Race, the historic competition held between Oxford and Cambridge universities. Above: Cambridge celebrated winning the women’s boat race in 2019

Campaigners have hit back at the ‘uncompromising’ proposals that show little regard for the ‘impact on sports and recreation’ and would create a ‘significant navigational obstruction’ on the Thames. Pictured: Cambridge women celebrate winning the 2021 Boat Race

The traditional Boat Race course starts at Putney Bridge and winds along the River Thames, under Hammersmith Bridge and then finishes at Chiswick Bridge

But fears have been raised over elements of the plans that propose a new passenger pier, which could be used for trips to and from the ground.

Campaigners have hit back at the ‘uncompromising’ proposals that show little regard for the ‘impact on sports and recreation’ and would create a ‘significant navigational obstruction’ on the Thames. 

MailOnline has contacted Fulham FC for comment. 

The first Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race took place in 1829 when the University of Cambridge challenged the University of Oxford. 

The race came about because two friends from Harrow School, Charles Wordsworth of Christ Church College, Oxford, and Charles Merivale of St. John’s, Cambridge, met during vacation in Cambridge – where Wordsworth’s father was master of Trinity.

Wordsworth went rowing on the River Cam, and the two school fellows decided to set up a challenge. 

There has only ever been one dead heat – in 1877 (pictured: A drawing of the race)

The race was held in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire – and Oxford won.

A second race was held in London in 1836, won by Cambridge. But a furious row emerged over where future races should be held.

Oxford backed Henley-on-Thames while Cambridge backed London.

The race eventually settled in London and has been held annually since 1856, except this year, due to the Covid pandemic, and for the years 1915–1919, due to the First World War, and during most of the Second World War.

However the Boat Race was held on the River Ouse in 1944, the only time it has been held outside of London in its continuous history, due to fears over V1 rockets.

Surprisingly, it was Oxford who were victorious, by three quarters of a length.

Hammersmith Bridge has traditionally marked the end of the first third of the Boat Race and is seen as a key part.

The crew to pass the bridge in the lead will win the Boat Race four out of five times, history has shown.

Along with the Men’s Boat Race, the first Women’s Boat Race was held in 1927. It has been held annually since 1964 and since 2015 has been held on the same day and the same course.

Since 2018, the two events together are known as The Boat Race. 

Currently Cambridge hold the most wins, with 85, while Oxford have 80 wins.  There has been one dead heat, recorded in 1877. 

Labour MP Ms Anderson told the Commons: ‘The future of Putney Boat Race on the Thames and all sport and all the river clubs on Putney embankment are begin put at risk by a proposal by Fulham Football Club to build an 80-metre pier out into the river which will have then a clipper ferry stop, which if it runs will make sport, rowing and sailing too dangerous on the river, especially for all the young people who use it.

‘As well as 30,000 participants in rowing races in the first quarter of the year, there are approximately 1,400 children from clubs and rowing centres near the Fulham Football Club and that part of the river who use it several items a week.’

Intervening, Conservative MP Bob Stewart (Beckehnam) said: ‘I can’t see how an 80-metre pier into the Thames can actually be allowed to happen in planning terms because it is so much used there, particularly rowing. It is wonderful.’

Ms Anderson replied: ‘Please do join the campaign, we have got a petition he can sign. You are not alone in being incredulous about how this can be allowed to go ahead.’

She added: ‘I hope Fulham Football Club will see this, will listen to all of these clubs and stop these plans to build this dangerous huge pier out into the river. I hope the minister can take this up with DCMS ministers as well and that we can talk about this and the future of the boat race will be secured.’

Commons Speaker Mark Spencer wished ‘all those participating in Putney all the best’. 

The Boat Race was cancelled in 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and was moved from its usual home on the Thames for the first time since the Second World War when it was held under restrictions in Ely, Cambridgeshire last year.

BRCL’s Chair, Tim Senior, said ‘The Boat Race is one of the most iconic events in world sport, but our supporters missed out on it over the last two seasons due to COVID-19 so we are looking forward to welcoming them and the crews back to London in 2022. 

‘We will continue to enhance all aspects of the race, delivering an exceptional experience for the athletes, spectators and viewers alike, while celebrating the event’s heritage and connection with our loyal community of supporters. 

‘Our vision is to further grow The Boat Race’s engagement and experience for existing and new audiences.’

The 185-year rivalry stretches back to when Oxford raced against Cambridge  in 1829 when the University of Cambridge challenged the University of Oxford to a rowing contest.

The race was held in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire – with Oxford emerging victorious that day.

A second race was held in London in 1836, won by Cambridge, but disputes continued over where the race should be held in future years.

The race eventually settled in the capital and has been held annually since 1856, except 2021, due to the Covid pandemic, and for the years 1915–1919, due to the First World War and during most of the Second World War.

However the Boat Race was held on the Ouse in 1944, the only time it has been held outside of London in its continuous history, because of fears of the V1 flying bombs being dropped on London.

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