Spurs cleared to host Wembley Stadium home games at full capacity after approval from Brent Council
PUBLISHED: 09:25 24 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 27 March 2017
Ady Kerry /AK Pictures
Tottenham Hotspur moved closer to playing home games at Wembley Stadium next season after their application to host 27 matches at the full 90,000 capacity was approved despite overwhelming objection from local residents and businesses.
Brent Council’s planning committee voted in favour of the proposal by a majority of five to one following a heated meeting, lasting almost three-and-a-half hours, during which frustrated residents were allowed to air their views.
Spurs now have until March 31 to activate their option to play at the national stadium, which has already been agreed with the Football Association.
Wembley’s current regulations meant Spurs could play any number of games there with the upper tier left empty, but this would mean a restricted capacity of 50,835.
The club were desperate, therefore, to be granted the full 90,000 for all their games and avoid the dampening effect on atmosphere involved in playing in a half-empty stadium.
Spurs’ executive director Donna Cullen said: “Brent is the proud home of Wembley but we would need to make it our proud home here.
“We would need to create a vibrant home advantage in the stadium. The impact of support is well-acknowledged, hence our application tonight for full capacity.”
But the issue of full capacity proved particularly contentious with objectors, who expressed concerns about anti-social behaviour, the extra strain on transport and the negative impact on local businesses.
Transport modeller and local resident Fatema Karim-Khaku said Tottenham’s concerns about the atmosphere at matches “was not a material planning consideration and should not be considered by the committee”.
Dr Michael Calderbank, speaking on behalf of the Wembley Park Residents Association described elderly residents living in the immediate vicinity of the stadium as “effectively kept prisoner in their own homes” on event days.
“We realise we are near a stadium,” he told the committee. “We are not unrealistic to the kind of impact that would have but we do think any additional events of that [full capacity] scale could be quite detrimental to the quality of life of our residents.”
The meeting also heard that businesses in nearby Wembley High Road, numbering around 80, claimed to have experienced a 25 per cent drop in trade on event days due to customers actively avoiding the area or simply being unable to get to shops.
“It is just a waste of time for them so they stay away,” said Niral Babla, chair of the Wembley High Road Business Association.
“It is just a total nightmare.”
A petition from residents group Wembley Champions calling for the application to be halted was launched earlier in the week and garnered more than 170 signatures.
Cllr Sam Stopp, who was not on the committee and is a Spurs supporter himself, said the residents’ well-being should be the priority when considering whether or not to approve the application.
“I find myself in the ridiculous position of being a Spurs fan...who has recieved a myriad of emails with concerns about these proposals and while in my heart I would love to see Spurs playing at Wembley Stadium, I cannot do anything here tonight other than implore you to take an alternative decision,” Stopp said.
“It would suggest a very wealthy football club might matter more to this council than the residents of Wembley and the residents of Brent.
“There is also a danger Wembley ends up simply being treated like a cash cow, and a cash cow the residents of Brent don’t actually receive any benefit from.”
Following a number of probing questions from committee members, at least two councillors appeared to favour approving the proposal - but only on the condition that the capacity be reduced from 90,000.
A compromise option of 61,000 - the capacity at Tottenham’s new stadium - was suggested when it was initially incorrectly ruled that deferring a decision was off limits.
Cllr Barbara Pitruzzella was the only one to vote against the proposal while Cllr Michael Maurice approved after earlier blasting an aparrent lack of assurance that the Metropolitan and Jubilee lines would run a normal service on matchdays to avoid “absolute chaos” for commuters making their way home.
Following the decision, Mrs Karim-Khaku said: “I am extremely shocked and terribly disappointed - especially as the committee was clearly leaning towards a deferral or rejection.
“They themselves said there was not enough analysis or information which is the point myself [and another speaker] raised in the environmental statement.”
If Tottenham host more than 27 matches next season, in theory the extra games could only be played to the reduced attendance of 50,835.
Wembley operations manager Chris Bryant, however, suggested Spurs could theoretically play all of their fixtures at full capacity.
“We would look to absorb those matches into the existing Wembley calendar,” he said. “Spurs will be made the priority.”
Ms Cullen also detailed the club’s £650,000 package of mitigation measures seeking to reduce the impacts of parking, enhance and replace transport signage, employ event day traffic management controls, improve event day street cleansing and implement initiatives to tackle pirate parking as well as ticket touting and anti-social behaviour.
She also confirmed overtures had been made to identify dates of major religious festivals and schedule fixtures around them.
Furthermore, the committee was told of the socio-economic benefits derived from supporters spending money in the area along with the 65 different activities for the local community around their four previous matches at the stadium, which has included the ‘My Heart Beats for Brent’ campaign.
A Brent Council spokeswoman later said: “Wembley Stadium is a highly valued part of our borough bringing visitors from around the world. We are pleased that a balance has been struck between recognising the impact on local residents and businesses whilst enabling the Stadium to make good use of its facilities and support a London club to operate in the capital while their ground is being redeveloped.
“We look forward to working closely with the Stadium, the Football Association and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in the forthcoming year both on the management of events and their work in the local community that they outlined in their application.”
A Wembley Stadium spokeswoman added: “We note Brent Council’s verdict to increase the number of full capacity events at Wembley Stadium, we fully respect the process and welcome the decision.
“We are committed to ensuring that all events held at Wembley Stadium are delivered in a manner that benefits the local community.
“This application involved an extensive public consultation process and we will continue to work closely with the council, local residents and businesses of Brent to make it a success.”
A statement issued by Tottenham Hotspur said: “WNSL (Wembley National Stadium Limited) and the club submitted measures to mitigate the impact of the increased number of supporters and community programmes to deliver direct benefits to local residents during the Club’s tenure.
“The Club will now continue discussions with WNSL and shall update fans in due course.”