HC Deb 24 June 1994 vol 245 cc323-5W
Mr. Coe

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he has reached his final decision on applications received from Premier League and first division football clubs for an extension to the Government's 1 August all-seater deadline.

Mr. Brooke

I have. On 26 May, in answer to a written parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), columns227–29, I announced that I had considered applications made by 11 clubs, and having taken into account the recommendations made by the Football Licensing Authority, formed a preliminary view. I also set out the criteria against which each application had been assessed. Clubs seeking an extension in order to relocate to a new ground are expected to produce clear evidence that such an extension would be for a strictly limited period and that the club could realistically complete its relocation within a reasonable and definite time scale. Clubs applying for an extension in order to redevelop their existing grounds are expected to show why their circumstances are wholly exceptional, why the reasons for the delay could not reasonably have been foreseen and why they could not be attributed to the actions or inaction of the club.

Clubs were given until 16 June to make further representations to me in support of their case, before I announced my final decision.

On the basis of the information then before me, I indicated that I was minded to agree that the following clubs, all of which are actively engaged in relocation to new stadia, have a valid case for an extension of the 1 August deadline:

  • Derby County
  • Grimsby Town
  • Middlesbrough
  • Portsmouth
  • Sunderland

I have today written to the chairmen of each of these clubs to confirm that my final decision is to grant limited extensions in each case.

I have warned, however, that although I have granted an extension, my general policy remains, and I have in mind that the extensions will be for one year only. I have also explained that any decision to allow the retention of standing accommodation for a limited period will not affect safety requirements at the ground. Clubs will still be required to observe the terms and conditions of the local authority safety certificate issued under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and any requirement placed on the club as a result of the FLA exercising its powers under section 13 of the Football Spectators Act 1989. The responsibility of each club to ensure that the ground meets the necessary safety requirements remains unchanged, irrespective of whether or not an extension is granted.

On 26 May, I also wrote to the chairmen of the following clubs indicating that, although I appreciated the very real difficulties they faced, I did not consider that the case they had presented was sufficiently strong to warrant an extension of the deadline beyond 1 August 1994:

  • Barnsley
  • Chelsea
  • Manchester City
  • Newcastle United
  • Oldham Athletic
  • Swindon Town

I said that in reaching my final decision I would consider each case on its individual merits in the light of the above criteria, having regard to all material facts and to the need to be consistent where circumstances are similar and fair to all clubs in the Premier League and Football League first division. I said that I would also take into account any other relevant points which the clubs wish to make in response to my letters.

Representations were received from five of these clubs before the 16 June deadline. I have given careful consideration to the points raised, and have also reviewed the original applications which each club made to the Football Licensing Authority.

I have decided that only one of these clubs, Newcastle United, has presented a sufficiently exceptional case to warrant an extension to the deadline, and that I would not be justified in granting extensions to Barnsley, Chelsea, Manchester City, Oldham Athletic or Swindon Town. I have therefore written to the chairmen of each of these clubs to inform them of my final decision.

I have today laid an Order under section 11 of the Football Spectators Act 1989 directing the Football Licensing Authority to include in its licences the following conditions: Only seated accommodation shall be provided for spectators at a designated football match; and Spectators shall only be admitted to watch a designated football match from seated accommodation.

The order will come into force on 15 July, and will apply to all clubs in the Premier League and first division of the Football League, save those which have been granted extensions to the 1 August deadline. The following clubs promoted into the—now—first division since 1991 will also be omitted from the order:

  • Bolton Wanderers—promoted in 1993
  • Burnley—promoted in 1994
  • Port Vale—promoted in 1994
  • Reading—promoted in 1994
  • Stoke City—promoted in 1993
  • West Bromwich Albion—promoted in 1993

These clubs will have three years from the date of their promotion to ensure that their grounds are all-seated.

I am pleased to report that the majority of clubs in the top two divisions will meet or are planning to meet the Government's deadline. I congratulate those clubs on the great strides they have made in improving the safety and comfort of spectators at their grounds. I will follow closely the progress made by clubs to which I have granted an extension, and I look forward to being able to report that these clubs also have successfully achieved all-seater stadiums.