A £2.5billion regeneration scheme around Wembley Stadium has been given the green light despite warnings from football chiefs that it was a “recipe for disaster”.
The FA said funnelling thousands of departing fans “like cattle” down narrow streets to two new car parks to the west of the national stadium would see them held in a “kettling pen” on match days.
It said it risked repeat scenes of violence which saw Manchester United’s team coach attacked by West Ham fans at Tuesday’s historic last game at the Boleyn Ground.
A local politician warned that replacing the existing easy-to-access car parks risked a repeat of the Hillsborough disaster.
But plans for the car parks were approved last night by Brent Council, along with a scheme to bring 4,850 new homes, 350,000sq ft of new offices and shops, two new hotels, a new seven-acre public park, student accomodation and a 600-place primary school to Wembley Park as part of one of the biggest regeneration schemes in Europe.
The FA could now call on new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to call in the plans based on their safety concerns.
Sport England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have also both written to the council to formally raise concerns.
The plans “created genuine public order and safety concerns”
Julie Harrington, operations director at the FA, last night told the council’s planning committee the location of the car parks off South Way “created genuine public order and safety concerns which would serve as a retrograde step for the stadium.”
She said: “Tuesday night’s disturbing scenes at West Ham’s Boleyn Ground only go to show that we absolutely cannot be complacent when it comes to fan management around the stadium.”
She said developer Quintain was ”working from a position to maximise profits” rather than to “protect fan safety”.
She said: “The holding of fans, the kettling of fans, that’s a return to the 1970s in my view.
“Even a short amount of time holding people, irate fans from teams that have lost, or rival fans mixing together is too much.”
Transport consultants working for the FA presented analysis showing fans could have to wait for up to three hours to board coaches under the new layout.
Ms Harrington warned that the FA “would not be able to attract major events to Wembley if fan’s can’t leave the car park.”
She said: “If fans can’t get to their coaches and can’t get to their vehicles, if up to 9,000 fans are pooled behind the stadium with nowhere to go, if 15,000 fans are pushed down back streets to their coaches, it’s a recipe for disaster, a public order disaster, and the FA will not stand by and see fans treated in this way.
“We cannot be complacent about the huge steps forward made in stadium safety in the past two decades. No-one should believe that its acceptable to herd fans like cattle. We must learn from past mistakes.”
Councillor Michael Maurice, the only member of the planning committee to vote against the proposals, told the meeting: “Up to 5,000 fans kettled? We don’t want to see another Hillsborough.”
He added: “Surely there should be no kettling at all, many of the fans might be somewhat inebriated. Surely if you start putting 10,000 to 15,000 people in a confined space you are asking for trouble.”
Objectors are also opposed to the size and scale of seven residential and commerical tower blocks of up to 19 storeys which were also given outline approval. Critics say they could block “iconic” views of Wembley from across London.
Sam Stopp, a Wembley Central councillor who is not on the planning committee, said: “If this goes ahead it will be so obscured it may no longer be a major draw. The arch is the something special, it’s not about profit, wealth and greed. What it suggests to young girls and boys is hope, and if they can’t see it it will be very sad and depressing.”
Quintain rejected the FA’s concerns but said it would continue to work with them to try and find a solution, while council officers rejected comparisons with Hillsborough.
Anne Clements, Quintain’s Senior Planning Manager,told the committee: “We reject any assertion that our future plans for pedestrians are unsafe and we do not accept claims about the impact on leaving times at the stadium.”
Speaking after the meeting Max James, chief executive of Quintain, said: “We are delighted that Brent Council has approved our new plans, accelerating the delivery of thousands of new homes, jobs and a fantastic new park in this prime location next to the iconic Wembley Stadium.
“We are excited to be playing such a pivotal role in creating the next chapter of this great city. We are creating a vision for Wembley which will truly fulfil its global heritage as the most famous sports and music destination in the world, now combined with modern urban living.
“We are committed to working with all stakeholders, including Wembley Stadium, to make the scheme a great success.”
A spokesman for Quintain added: “The safety of fans and all visitors to Wembley Park is our top priority at all times. To be clear our preferred future coach park pedestrian solution, endorsed by Brent, does not involve any holding pens for fans.”
“We have developed a clear and workable solution for event day traffic management in our new masterplan and we remain in detailed discussions with Wembley Stadium to address the wider transport issues they have raised.
Source: Evening Standard