The picnics and Panama hats, the jugs of Pimm's and gentle thwack of willow against leather: watching cricket at Lord's has long been the stuff of a quintessentially idyllic English summer.
Unless, that is, you live near the home of cricket. Residents of the upmarket north London suburb of St John's Wood are fuming at planned development of the ground. They claim that the Marylebone Cricket Club's (MCC) intention to hold more night matches under floodlights, and to increase crowds by a third to almost 40,000 spectators, will introduce that creature hitherto unknown to English cricket: the lager lout. Old Father Time will be spinning atop his weather vane.
Having recently introduced branded gin and whisky, the MCC, founded in 1787 and based at Lord's, expects to announce before next year's eagerly awaited Ashes Test Match that it will begin a £200m redevelopment.
To accommodate the punchier, glitzier Twenty20 version of the game, which is played on midweek evenings, Lord's will get six new floodlights (dismantled at the end of each summer), 10,000 extra seats, residential flats and potentially even hotel rooms. With the exception of local shopkeepers – who are understandably rubbing their hands at the thought of a larger footfall – neighbours are mounting a vigorous campaign against the proposals, claiming they will be subjected to undesirable noise, heavier traffic, blinding lights beamed into their living rooms and alcohol-fuelled late night revelry.
"It's going to make the ground look like a dockyard or an industrial estate for five years, it will be absolutely hideous," said Michael Brent QC, of the St John's Wood Society, the residents group leading the charge. "A lot of people in the flats surrounding the ground are going to be completely dazzled by the lights. Staging all these night games does pose a different set of problems. Dispersing crowds and drinkers late at night would be a big worry for us."
The society has asked Lord's for an "experiment" this summer to examine the impact of light pollution on their homes. Westminster Council says it has received more than 50 letters of complaint.
The ladies of St John's Wood are unimpressed. "Nobody here wants all those crowds and noise and fuss," said Joyce Agnew, 60, who lives within yards of the ground. "When the matches are on, the whole area gets taken over by – well, there's only one word for it – foreigners.
"You can't use the buses or the Tube station. The children don't like it. This is our area and we shouldn't be swamped against our wishes."
In church grounds across the road, Les Scaley, 57, a gardener, is blunter, describing some recent visitors as hooligans. "We are getting a lower breed of supporter," he said. "The new breed are basically football hooligans in disguise. I've been tending these gardens for over a decade now and I can tell you, more cricket means less peace."
His bugbear is litter; cricket fans are less tidy than their pressed shirts might suggest, he says.
The MCC, unsurprisingly, plays down the fears of booze-soaked supporters tearing up the neighbourhood.
"It's important we take into account the effect on the local area as well as how it fits in with the Lord's masterplan," said the MCC chief executive, Keith Bradshaw. He urged neighbours to appreciate the need for a "world-class modern stadium" to ensure Lord's remains the home of cricket. Building work could begin in 2011.Reuse content