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Regeneration and stadia developments: Why here? Why now? Why this scheme?
The planning system that operates in England and Wales is underpinned by the need to deliver sustainable forms of development that serve sustainable communities. It is within this context that planning permission for all types of development, including new stadia, has to be considered.
This poses a difficulty for stadia developers – and indeed sports teams and local communities – in that it is often difficult to argue that a development that is traditionally used once every other weekend and attended by many thousands of visitors (often in cars), and which will inevitably impact hugely upon a local community, can ever truly be described as sustainable. In order to tick the sustainability box, stadia developments have to be much more than just sporting venues.
A further difficulty for those seeking to deliver new stadia in England and Wales is the ‘plan led’ system of development control. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that when a local planning authority determines a planning application, that determination “must be made in accordance with the [development] plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise”.
However, these plans often take several years to put in place, and often remain in force for many years following their adoption. Very few stadia developments are conceived sufficiently far in advance of their construction for them to be included within a land use allocation plan. Instead, such proposals tend to be formulated as and when the opportunity and need for them arises, often within a very limited window of opportunity and when a unique set of circumstances diverges.
So without a stadium development allocation, how does one go about obtaining planning permission for a scheme in circumstances where there may be conflict with the development plan? The answer lies in identifying sufficient ‘material considerations’ that would justify a departure from development plan policy. For example, the delivery of ‘regeneration’ has proved to be an important factor in the successful delivery of major new stadiums such as the City of Manchester Stadium, the Emirates Stadium, Wembley Stadium, and the Olympic Stadium in London, where, in the case of the latter, the ‘legacy’ factor was arguably what secured the Games for London.
The difficulty with the planning system that operates in England and Wales, however, is that it is fraught with uncertainty. There is uncertainty as to timing. For example, Everton Football Club’s proposed new stadium in Kirkby took in excess of three years from inception to its ultimate refusal by the Secretary of State.
There is also uncertainty as to cost: not only are there the consultant’s costs of putting together a planning application (these can easily top £200,000), but what if there is a legal challenge to the grant of permission, or an appeal against a refusal of planning permission, or what if there is a need for a compulsory purchase order to assemble a site of sufficient critical mass?
There may also be heritage considerations to take into account. In May 2010, Tottenham Hotspur were forced to resubmit their proposals for the redevelopment of their White Hart Lane stadium amidst concerns from English Heritage surrounding the demolition of four listed buildings on the site. Each of these potential pitfalls is expensive to resolve and must be taken into consideration by developers. There may also be uncertainty as to whether a planning application for a stadium scheme will ultimately be successful – a fear borne out by the Secretary of State’s refusal of Everton’s proposed move to Kirkby.
There are, however, ways in which the level of uncertainty can be reduced, and this can be can be neatly articulated through the presentation of a ‘why here, why now, why this scheme?’ argument. Regeneration lies at the heart of the ‘why here’ case. If it can be demonstrated that a stadium scheme will bring about much needed economic growth, social inclusion and physical regeneration to a failing town or community, it becomes difficult for a local authority to refuse the proposal. Regenerative benefits come in a number of forms. There will inevitably be jobs created both in the construction of the stadium and ancillary development, and in staffing it once open. Indeed, it is common for developers to be required to sign up to a local workforce job guarantee schemes in areas of high unemployment.
In the case of Everton’s proposed move to Kirkby for example, the lead developer would have been required, through the mechanism of a planning obligation, to ensure that 50% of the jobs available within the first year of the proposed retail store being opened were offered to local people taking part in a ‘job guarantee scheme’.
Sport itself can be a key driver in regeneration. A large stadium, home to a major sporting club, can help put a place on the map, thereby securing the recognition and investment in an area for regeneration. Stadium architects strive to deliver stadia that will become tourist attractions in their own right and of which the local community can be proud.
During the compulsory purchase inquiry for Arsenal Football Club’s move to the Emirates Stadium, Islington Borough Council, where both the old and new Arsenal stadiums are located, successfully argued that the loss of Arsenal Football Club to a neighbouring Council would have a major impact on the Local Authority’s area. Similarly, Liverpool City Council, fearful of the consequences for the city if Everton were to relocate, objected to the football club’s proposed move to the neighbouring local authority area of Knowsley.
This is not always the case, though. When Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club sought approval for their new stadium, the club argued that it was in the national interest that a community stadium be provided to serve the city of Brighton and Hove. It was argued that it was in the national interest that all major centres of population are able to enjoy participation and representation at a professional level in major sporting activities. The Secretary of State dismissed this, stating that there was no compelling evidence that all major urban centres must be represented by sporting activities.
However, a strong case can be made for the argument that local communities can – and do – benefit from the presence of a major sporting club within their community. Modern-day sports clubs pride themselves on their community initiatives. For example, the ‘Everton In the Community’ and ‘Arsenal In the Community’ programmes are both very well respected, delivering programmes aimed at educating local people about such things as fitness and diet, and how they are essential to success in learning, training and long-term employment.
Community initiatives can even extend to the provision of priority season ticket allocation to supporters living within the vicinity of a stadium, as was the case when Arsenal Football Club relocated to the Emirates Stadium. There, the club was required, through the use of planning obligations tied to the grant of planning permission, to prioritise local people on the waiting list for season tickets, with at least half the increased number of season tickets (approximately 7,500) being offered to those living within the London Borough of Islington for the first season at the new stadium.
A strong case also can be made for the beneficial role that a stadium itself, rather than the sporting club it is home to, can play in the regeneration of a community with deep rooted socio-economic problems. There is an increasing requirement for stadia to be used on a daily basis for a variety of community uses including education, health care and conference facilities.
However, the key to a successful ‘why here?’ argument is being able to demonstrate that the proposed location of a stadium is actually in need of regeneration. Often this can be made obvious from a tour of the area, but the case still needs to be justified with detailed analysis of a host of national, regional and local statistics in order to understand the needs of a community.
While the task of regenerating failing communities is clearly a laudable one, neighbouring local authorities objected to the proposed relocation of Everton football club to Kirkby on the basis that the regeneration of the town must not be at the expense of regeneration in neighbouring communities. They argued that the scale of the Kirkby proposals would undermine schemes being proposed in other towns and this proved a significant factor in the ultimate refusal of Everton’s relocation proposals.
The ‘why now?’ case is similarly linked to regeneration arguments. While a compelling case can often be made out in relation to the needs of the sports club concerned, be it the need for a larger stadium or the need for better corporate facilities, the crux of the ‘why now?’ case will focus on marrying ‘opportunity and need’. That is, the needs of the sports club and the local community, and the opportunity presented by the stadia proposals.
The window of opportunity is often exceedingly small, with the proposals representing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver a development that will help secure the regeneration of the community. If planning permission is not granted, then the opportunity is likely to be lost forever.
In the context of the 2012 Olympic Games, for example, the area surrounding the stadium will ultimately benefit from a legacy of a regenerated community including improved infrastructure; major opportunities for new employment; new community facilities, including education and health; a network of open spaces and enhanced waterways, amenity and nature conservation benefits; and, a significant number of new homes, with a marked contribution to affordable needs for London and the South East.
While other areas of London might lay claim to the need for similar regeneration benefits, it was the particular characteristics and scale of the Lower Lea Valley area that provided the ‘opportunity and need’ to accommodate a compact Olympic Games and to maximise the resultant legacy benefits.
The ‘why this scheme?’ argument is often the most difficult as this is where opponents to a scheme tend to focus their objections. This area of a proposed project will focus on matters other than the regeneration needs of the community and the benefits to be derived from the scheme.
Instead, it will concentrate on the particular planning merits of the proposals. These will include, for example, design, scale, impact on local amenities, environmental issues, and the need for any residential or retail developments proposed in addition to the stadium. If developers get these arguments right, the likelihood of receiving planning permission for a stadium scheme is greatly increased.
Ultimately, there is little doubt that stadia-led developments, if properly thought out, can result in significant and long-standing regenerative benefits to communities that have acute socio-economic needs. However, this does not mean that such schemes are always welcomed by those who live and work locally.
At the heart of any debate on the planning system is the argument as to the fundamental purpose of the planning system: should it be to promote development such as stadia, or to protect the environment and local communities from the adverse consequences of such development? The planning system in England and Wales works well as it allows itself to mediate between these potentially competing interests, not by simply choosing between them, but rather by achieving a sensible balance between them.
While it may not be an exact science and be far from certain, it is clear that the system in no way precludes stadia development. This is demonstrated by the many impressive stadia that exist here and the fantastic opportunity that such stadia have afforded to the communities in which they are located.
Matthew Collings is an associate at Eversheds LLP
Common planning obligations
- Green travel plans
- Stadium travel plan
- Transport infrastructure improvements
- Enhanced public realm/open space
- Town centre management plan
- Local employment contribution
- Financial contributions
- Community use of the stadium
- Community programmes
- Priority season ticket allocation
Common regeneration benefits
- Iconic landmark building
- Positive impact of stadium
- Boost to local economy
- Improved amenity and greenspace
- New and ‘affordable’ homes
- Job creation
- Community health/education facilities
- New business/commercial space
- Civic pride
- Town centre improvements