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-> Greens Press -> ARSENALS STADIUM OPENING...
31462006-06-27

Green Party in England & Wales

ARSENALS STADIUM OPENING IN THE BALANCE

The planned opening of Arsenals new 350m Emirates Stadium next
month hangs in the balance after police and council officials
confirmed key safety measures were still not in place.

Arsenals first match in the 60,000 seat stadium is scheduled for 22
July, but it still does not have a licence to operate. And in a
further blow to Arsenals plans, Green Party councillor Katie Dawson
has won her bid for full public consultation on controversial match-
day road closures.

All the way along, Arsenal have assumed that Islington Council will
fall in line with their plans, Katie said. But the local community
have won the right to have their say. And if local councillors listen
and refuse to agree to close these roads, then the stadium cannot open.

The police have confirmed that, without the road closures, they will
oppose granting Arsenal a stadium licence a legal requirement under
the Football Licensing Act. And Chief Superintendent Barry Norman,
Islingtons top cop, has separately voiced his fears about crowd
safety on match days, especially as planned upgrades to nearby rail
and tube stations have been axed.

They have been building this stadium for years, added Katie, a
local mother of three who was elected as Islingtons first Green
councillor in May. But with a month to go, they still have not
published the travel or safety plans for consultation. No-one wants
to see the stadium stand empty, but we have seen endless broken
promises and back-room deals over the Emirates stadium and the local
community has had enough.

The road closures would last for up to five hours and affect hundreds
of homes. They would be imposed not only for weekend and evening
fixtures but also for concerts and other events planned for the stadium.

Local people are also alarmed by police admissions that emergency
vehicles may not be able to move through the huge crowds, and that
rival fans will not be segregated outside the stadium.

Previously, decisions on Arsenal were taken by a council subcommittee
which excluded local councillors. But in her first move after being
elected, Katie Dawson succeeded in changing the constitution of
Islington Council to allow planning decisions to be taken by the
local area committee, made up of councillors representing the wards
most directly affected.

The road closure orders will be decided at the area committee meeting
on 27 June, where Councillor Dawson will table a motion rejecting
them and calling on Arsenal to come up with fresh proposals. With
five Labour councillors already backing her stance, all hangs on the
six Lib Dem councillors on the committee.

If successful, one possible outcome would be that Arsenal would be
granted a stadium licence with a reduced capacity while safety
concerns were thrashed out. This would allow it to fulfil its fixture
commitments but would mean less profit for the club from ticket sales.

For years, the Council has done Arsenals bidding, said Katie. Now
local councillors face a choice. They can force Arsenal back to the
negotiating table. Or they can betray the people who elected them.


Notes for Editors

The Emirates stadium is part of a 350m redevelopment at Ashburton
Grove in Islington, North London, a few hundred yards from the
existing Highbury Stadium. It will have 60,000 seats compared to
38,000 at the old stadium, giving Arsenal the highest gate receipts
of any European football club. The development costs are being offset
by building several blocks of flats alongside the new stadium, and
redeveloping the old stadium.

The redevelopment has been dogged by controversy, including the low
proportion of social housing in the development, the siting of much
of the social housing next to a waste transfer depot, the scrapping
of promised upgrades for local tube stations to help bring in the
extra crowds safely, the closure of the popular JVC youth centre, the
possibility of a casino in the new stadium complex, the impact of
increased traffic on the areas narrow streets, and plans to park
coaches in residential streets rather than in an underground car park
as planned.

Until May 2006, planning decisions were taken either by the full
Council or by the Corporate Services Committee, which did not include
any councillors from the wards most closely affected by the
proposals. The change in the Council constitution moved by Councillor
Dawson allows the Council to remit such planning decisions to the
East Area committee, made up of 12 councillors from four nearby
wards. The committee (like the full Council) is evenly balanced with
6 Lib Dem, 5 Labour, and 1 Green councillor. The Lib Dem chair has
the casting vote.

Council officers have confirmed that the police consider that the
road closure orders are needed for the new stadium to operate safely.
Without them, the police would advise Islington Council not to issue
a licence to operate the stadium.

The first match in the new stadium was due to be a friendly against
Ajax at 5pm on 22 July. For more information see www.arsenal.com.

Katie Dawson was elected for the Highbury West ward in May 2006.
Originally from Dagenham, she has lived in Highbury since the 1980s
and is married with three young children.






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