CAMPAIGNS: Arsenal new stadium plan nets support - Public Affairs

Premiership football club Arsenal has played at its 38,000 capacity Highbury ground for 87 years.

But in order to meet fans' demand and boost commercial revenue,the club wanted to relocate within the borough of Islington to a new 60,000 stadium at Ashburton Grove.

This decision would be emotive for supporters and local residents staunchly opposed to such a major new development. Together they would articulate an intelligent and vociferous opposition. Some political opposition to the scheme was also expected.

Objectives

To generate community and political support for what was the largest urban regeneration project in the borough, and thus bring about approval for Arsenal's planning application for the stadium.

Strategy and Plan

Sixteen local residents' and environmental groups established the umbrella ISCA (Islington Stadium Communities Alliance) group to oppose the plans.

Rather than let others set the agenda, the Good Relations team set up a public consultation programme to debate the issues and allow the community to express their views.

Arsenal listened to and acted on many of the views expressed, and made some amendments to the plans.

For example, capacity at the nearby Holloway Road Tube station will be increased, and changes to the stadium design have been agreed.

Five newsletters were sent to more than 25,000 local residents.

The plans were exhibited at Highbury and planning consultants were made available to answer questions.

Arsenal's website carried up-to-date plans, which were also produced on CD. Public viewings of information videos were organised.

Measurement and Evaluation

The public consultation programme helped build support for the proposals.

ISCA acknowledged that the consultation programme had been well organised and inclusive.

At the time of the initial November 2000 planning application, the first (pre-paid) reply card was sent out and the response was 70 per cent favourable.

A further newsletter and pre-paid card was sent out in June 2001, following the submission of the amended planning application - and again these recorded overwhelming favour for the plans.

As expected, the local press and London's Evening Standard covered the story in detail. The nationals frequently put the story on news, rather than sport pages. Broadcast coverage was sporadic but informed.

Results

Just a year after submitting a planning application, councillors voted 34 to seven in favour of the plans.

Final approval was sealed in February 2002, when the Government decided against holding a public inquiry.

Construction will start in the summer and the club hopes to be playing there from August 2004.

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