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www.ClubsInCrisis.com 13 April 2009 - 16:28

Why Should John Prescott Approve The Community Stadium?

There are three key reasons why John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, should give approval for the proposed Brighton & Hove community stadium:

  1. There are enormous social and economic benefits for the city and, indeed, the South East region of England.
  2. Falmer is the only site in Brighton & Hove or the surrounding area which can be developed in line with national policy on sustainable transport.
  3. A stadium for Brighton & Hove, which is a major city of 250,000 residents, is in the national interest.

We expand on these themes below, and also explain the principal objection to the scheme.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC BENEFITS

Towns and cities such as Huddersfield and Hull will know what a driving force a community stadium can be. Brighton & Hove desperately needs such a facility to kick-start its plans for regeneration of the city.

Brighton & Hove has around 250,000 residents and is at the heart of what the 1991 Census found to be the 10th largest urban area (population 438,000) in England and Wales. It is a major economic force in the South East of England, a centre of business activity and culture, and a city of national importance.

Defeating deprivation

Contrary to popular belief, Brighton & Hove contains some of the most deprived areas in the country. For instance, five city estates make up the East Brighton “New Deal for Communities” area, a Government initiative to end social exclusion. These areas, which include Moulsecoomb (the nearest estate to the stadium site), have large numbers of residents on low incomes, high unemployment and high crime rates.

Brighton & Hove City Council regards the stadium at Village Way as a strategic priority because it will assist with these problems, helping to break the cycle of deprivation. Developing some of the initiatives already established by the football club, there will be programmes assisting in education, skills and crime-reduction.

Education and employment

It is proposed, for example, to establish a skills-training centre in conjunction with City College Brighton & Hove. During the building phase this will educate local young people in construction skills. Once the stadium is up and running, skills in catering, administration, security, building and ground maintenance, etc., will be taught.

A Study Support Centre, in conjunction with the Learning & Skills Council, already attracts hundreds of students to the existing Withdean Stadium where they gain basic skills in information technology, numeracy, literacy, etc. The new stadium would provide the opportunity to greatly expand this programme and use the “power of football” to improve the prospects of thousands of young people in the city.

The employment prospects at the stadium are immense. The city council believes that the project would create 600 new jobs with a direct benefit to the economy of £13 million per year – and 60-70% of those jobs would be taken by residents of East Brighton.

While these opportunities could also be provided on other sites, the fact that the Falmer site is “on the doorstep” of East Brighton would dramatically improve the impact.

Football in the Community

In fact Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club is now the city council’s largest partner in the delivery of social and economic programmes. It deserves the opportunity to expand on them rather than seeing them curtailed or destroyed because of a lack of facilities.

The club’s Football in the Community programme is all-embracing and benefits over 3,000 children and young people each year. It sends over 40 coaches into schools, arranges events for over 1,000 young supporters, organises teams for children with special needs, assists in crime-reduction projects in East Brighton, runs a successful women and girls’ football club, and has many other “strings to its bow”.

Of course a stadium will also inspire the city’s young sportsmen and sportswomen, encourage health and well-being, and provide a source of civic pride.

It will also provide a modern home for the city’s professional football club Brighton & Hove Albion. The club has been source of pleasure for thousands of supporters in its 103-year history. Since 1920 it has competed in the nationwide Football League, one of 92 professional clubs at the top of the national league structure. A 22,000-seat stadium will allow it to fulfil its potential; gates averaged over 25,000 at the peak of the club’s popularity.

FALMER: THE ONLY POSSIBLE SITE

The stadium site at Village Way, Falmer, is not ideal but it is certainly the best available. See "Where Will The Community Stadium Be Sited?".

The stadium “footprint” includes two different areas. It would occupy part of the campus of the University of Brighton and an adjacent arable field.

The university and the football club have reached agreement over the use of university land. An outline planning application for the rebuilding of the university campus was recently approved by the city council. The stadium will replace some worn-out and, frankly, ugly buildings from the 1960s, while a significant financial contribution will be made towards the campus plans in return for the land.

The field is owned by Brighton & Hove City Council and will be the city’s contribution to the community stadium. In fact the boundary between the city and neighbouring Lewes District Council runs through the field. While the stadium would be wholly within Brighton & Hove, a dedicated bus and coach-park would be on the Lewes side of the border.

To the north of this site lie the A27 dual carriageway trunk road, the Brighton-to-Lewes railway line, including Falmer Station, and the University of Sussex. To the east is another open area before the busy B2123 road is reached. Beyond that lies Falmer village. To the west is the University of Brighton, while to the south is Village Way, the access road to the university which separates the site from the lower slopes of the South Downs.

Transport solutions

The combination of transport facilities is the key to the unique suitability of the Village Way site. With a railway station adjacent to the stadium as well as a dedicated bus and coach-park, the emphasis is on public transport, building on the innovative model developed for Withdean Stadium. (In fact there are numerous public bus services every hour to serve the universities.) At Withdean there is a stewarded no-parking zone around the stadium, while every ticket includes a public transport voucher enabling free bus or rail travel within the city and the surrounding area. This would be repeated at Falmer.

No stadium can operate without some arrivals by car, but here Falmer scores heavily again. By making use of existing car-parks and other facilities in the vicinity, the project envisages just 150 dedicated new parking spaces for VIPs and disabled supporters, a remarkably low figure.

Agreements have been made to utilise the car-parks on the University of Sussex’s campus. Another car-park will be provided on the artificial playing surfaces at nearby Falmer School (with no detriment to the surfaces). These sites will be restricted to high-occupancy cars only. Other cars may be parked in satellite park-and-ride sites with spectators bussed to the stadium. Stewarding will prevent spectators parking cars in Falmer village and other residential areas.

ONLY Falmer can provide this innovative and sustainable solution to the problems of transporting 22,000 spectators to and from a stadium. The site is small for a stadium of this capacity, but the unique solution to the transportation question ensures that land-take is the minimum possible.

Other sites

Other suggested locations, for instance, Toad’s Hole and Sheepcote Valley, fail miserably in this respect. Stadium developments at these sites, miles from railway stations and not well-served by bus routes, would shift the emphasis to private transport – cars – and require the construction of large new car-parks. They would fly in the face of national policy on sustainable transport.

Other sites suggested in the past include Brighton Station car-park and Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium, but neither of these are available. Most parties recognise that land at Shoreham Harbour cannot be developed until the infrastructure is greatly improved, which is not expected for many years yet.

The club’s existing Withdean Stadium has only ever been approved for temporary use as a league ground. It is essentially an athletics stadium which has been adapted for use for league football, even though it does not meet minimum requirements (i.e. fewer seats covered than regulations allow). It lies in a densely populated residential area. Evidence presented to the recent public inquiry shows that it would not be possible to expand the stadium beyond a capacity of 9,000 seats in line with modern safety requirements, principally because of the relative lack of access. And 9,000 seats is not enough to sustain the position Brighton & Hove Albion in the long term as there is no scope to increase income. (For the history of why Albion are at Withdean and not at the Goldstone Ground, see here.)

Quite simply, Falmer is the only viable and available site in a city trapped between the South Downs and the English Channel. Extensive searches have taken place throughout the city and beyond, but it is accepted by most parties that the stadium has to be within the city or just outside as that is where the greatest number of supporters live.

Public support

As well as being shown to be the only suitable site in evidence to the city council and the recent public inquiry, Falmer has come out as the people’s favourite at every stage of consultation. This was amply demonstrated by the 1999 city-wide referendum in which 68% of voters (44,985) plumped for Falmer with 32% (21,548) against. The planning application itself was supported by a petition of 61,452 names and almost 10,000 letters, massively outweighing the opposition figures.

The stadium at Falmer has the support of the immediate neighbour, the University of Brighton, and the nearby University of Sussex. Other bodies to support it include the South East England Development Agency, the Learning & Skills Council and City College Brighton & Hove. The national football and sporting bodies presented evidence in support at the recent public inquiry: the Football Association, the Football League, the Football Foundation and Sport England.

Funding

The stadium will not be allowed to proceed until the money to complete it, around £48 million, has been secured. There is, therefore, no prospect of adjacent enabling development being required as some opponents fear.

Funding will come principally from grants, sponsorship, catering rights, loans secured against season-ticket sales, and contributions from the football club.

NATIONAL INTEREST

Brighton & Hove has around 250,000 residents and is at the heart of what the 1991 Census found to be the 10th largest urban area (population 438,000) in England and Wales. It is a major economic force in the South East of England, and in 2001 the regional and national significance of Brighton & Hove was recognised when it was created a city.

The city is also relatively isolated, and there is no other stadium or league football club within 40 miles. To the south lies the English Channel, to the north and east are the beautiful South Downs. The urban area stretches westwards to Littlehampton, but the heart of the conurbation is Brighton & Hove.

Such a large and isolated populated area should surely be competing on a national stage. National competitions in our national sport require participation from all major populated areas. Compelling evidence that a stadium for Brighton & Hove is a matter of national concern was presented at the recent inquiry by the national football and sporting bodies.

The 61,452-name petition included signatures from every postcode area in Great Britain. In recent weeks this national support has been emphasised by representations from supporters of the stadium – not necessarily Brighton & Hove Albion supporters by any means – from all over the country.

The opportunity to provide appropriate community stadium facilities should be the right of every major town and city. They promote health, education, employment and crime-reduction through sport, in line with Government policy for the well-being of the nation. Brighton & Hove, which is constrained between the South Downs and the sea, should not be denied this opportunity because of a quirk of geography.

PRINCIPAL OBJECTION

The main objection to the whole Falmer project is the fact that the field adjacent to the University of Brighton campus is part of the area designated in 1966 as the South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (“AONB”). (See "Where Will The Community Stadium Be Sited?".)

In fact it’s not just the field that’s in the AONB, the campuses of the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex are as well!

The anachronistic definition of the South Downs is currently being examined at a public inquiry into the establishment of a South Downs National Park and it’s highly likely that the boundary of the protected countryside in the Falmer area will be altered significantly. But that decision is some way off at present, so the AONB status of the field remains.

A lay person, using a common-sense definition of “outstanding natural beauty” would be hard-pressed to bestow that tag on the field nowadays. Ploughed for the growing of crops, the field is subjected to the noise of the trunk road and railway, and is overlooked from the west by the university campus. Its ambience is more urban than rural.

Its loss would have minimal impact on the AONB and would be greatly outweighed by the benefits a community stadium would provide.

In fact the stadium plans are well designed and acknowledge the sensitivity of a partly brown-field and partly green-field site. In all aspects great care has been taken to minimise adverse environmental impact on the AONB, the university campuses and Falmer village.

Because of its national designation, the field is protected from development unless three criteria can be fulfilled:

  1. That the need cannot be met elsewhere.
  2. That the development will deliver significant social or economic benefits.
  3. That the development is a matter of need in terms of national considerations.

For the reasons detailed above, we say that all three criteria are admirably met by the stadium plans at Village Way, Falmer. Therefore the plans should be approved by John Prescott.