Arsenal's stadium opening "in the balance"


The planned opening of Arsenal’s new £350m Emirates Stadium next month hangs in the balance after police and council officials confirmed key safety measures were still not in place.

Arsenal’s first match in the 60,000 seat stadium is scheduled for 22 July, but it still does not have a licence to operate. And in a further blow to Arsenal’s plans, Green Party councillor Katie Dawson has won her bid for full public consultation on controversial match-day road closures.

“All the way along, Arsenal have assumed that Islington Council will fall in line with their plans,” Katie said. “But the local community have won the right to have their say. And if local councillors listen and refuse to agree to close these roads, then the stadium cannot open.”

The police have confirmed that, without the road closures, they will oppose granting Arsenal a stadium licence – a legal requirement under the Football Licensing Act. And Chief Superintendent Barry Norman, Islington’s top cop, has separately voiced his fears about crowd safety on match days, especially as planned upgrades to nearby rail and tube stations have been axed.

“They have been building this stadium for years,” added Katie, a local mother of three who was elected as Islington’s first Green councillor in May. “But with a month to go, they still have not published the travel or safety plans for consultation. No-one wants to see the stadium stand empty, but we have seen endless broken promises and back-room deals over the Emirates stadium and the local community has had enough.”

The road closures would last for up to five hours and affect hundreds of homes. They would be imposed not only for weekend and evening fixtures but also for concerts and other events planned for the stadium.

Local people are also alarmed by police admissions that emergency vehicles may not be able to move through the huge crowds, and that rival fans will not be segregated outside the stadium.

Previously, decisions on Arsenal were taken by a council subcommittee which excluded local councillors. But in her first move after being elected, Katie Dawson succeeded in changing the constitution of Islington Council to allow planning decisions to be taken by the local area committee, made up of councillors representing the wards most directly affected.

The road closure orders will be decided at the area committee meeting on 27 June, where Councillor Dawson will table a motion rejecting them and calling on Arsenal to come up with fresh proposals. With five Labour councillors already backing her stance, all hangs on the six Lib Dem councillors on the committee.

If successful, one possible outcome would be that Arsenal would be granted a stadium licence with a reduced capacity while safety concerns were thrashed out. This would allow it to fulfil its fixture commitments but would mean less profit for the club from ticket sales.

“For years, the Council has done Arsenal’s bidding,” said Katie. “Now local councillors face a choice. They can force Arsenal back to the negotiating table. Or they can betray the people who elected them.”



June 2006

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