Herne Hill Vlodrome: bright future or fast fading memory? Hoping to find the answer, more than 200 track users, friends, family and supportive local residents packed Dulwich Methodist Hall for what one local politician described as: "The best attended and most fervent public meeting I have ever been at."
Sadly, the trustees of Dulwich Estate, who own the land and locked out its users back in February, with a brief reprieve to enable the traditional Good Friday Meeting to take place, declined an invitation to attend and state their position, citing the need for all their officers to be instead at a staff social function the same evening.
They did submit a written response but this was couched in such veiled terms that it revealed nothing of their plans for the future of the site, which is the only surviving stadium from the 1948 London Olympics and, currently, London's only cycle racing track.
However, meeting chairman Philip Kolvin was able to introduce a formidable battery of speakers, including British Cycling supremo Peter King; prominent New Labour politician Valerie Shawcross - the Greater London Authority member for Lambeth and Southwark; Andy Sacha from Sport England; former Olympic athlete and now Southwark councillor Colomba Blango; Cycling +'s Roger St. Pierre; Southwark Cyclists co-ordinator Barry Mason; representatives of the Burbage Road Residents Association and Graeme Geddes, the tireless workhorse of the London Vlodrome Trust.
Perhaps the most potent voices though were those of youngsters Hannah Webb and Sam Fensterheim who made an impassioned plea for this unique venue to continue as the central focus of their cycling activities. Support was also reported from London Mayor Ken Livingstone and from the Minister of Sport and other powers.
It was pointed out that Herne Hill Vlodrome is a vital facility for cyclists not only from London but from around the country and in international terms too. And, as importantly, it a key part of Dulwich heritage, having opened in 1891, at a time when the surrounding houses had yet to be built.
Until this year the track was on lease by Dulwich Estate to Southwark Council under a 41 year lease, which expired on March 31, 2002.
According to the Dulwich Estate's written statement: "During the past three years, Dulwich Estate granted Southwark Council three extensions of its original lease in order to work with the London Vlodrome Trust to devise a scheme for the future of the facility and to devise a scheme for the future of the facility and to obtain the required capital funding.
"The council funded a feasibility study which proposed roofing over the cycle track to enable it to be used year round. the estimated cost of this scheme was in excess of £7-million. The council's third lease extension was granted solely on the understanding that a definitive scheme would be presented to the estate, backed by secured funding.
"After almost three years, in view of the high degree of uncertainty regarding capital funding and the final form of the scheme proposed by the council, the estate decided it had little choice but to take back the site and seek an alternative tenant with access to capital funding.
"The short closure of the site is unfortunate but the Dulwich Estate hopes that cyclists and other users will, ultimately, benefit from the action taken. A joint statement will be released next week, once contracts have been signed." Fears were expressed at the meeting of a hidden agenda that might see the track swept away in favour of other leisure facilities or, even worse, long term plans to apply for the removal of the site's Metropolitan Open Land status, paving the way for it to be redeveloped for housing.
The meeting heard that the locked site was already being vandalised and fly-tipping was reported to be taking place there.
Suggestions from the floor included a critical mass protest ride, a complaint to the Charity Commission on the grounds that Dulwich Estate, a registered charity, is showing contempt for local feeling and putting financial returns ahead of it duty to be charitable. One other intriguing idea was to investigate the possibility of the local council seeking compulsory purchase order to take the land into public ownership.
Roger St. Pierre