Arsenal Football Club in London has one of the newest and most impressive football stadiums in the world. 

Arsenal Football Club (Arsenal) is one of the largest and most successful football (soccer) clubs in England.  At the start of the 2006 / 07 season, Arsenal relocated from its long time home ground of ‘Highbury’ in north London to a brand new state-of-the-art 60,000-seat stadium (‘the Emirates’).  The opening of the new stadium was a significant milestone in an ambitious and comprehensive redevelopment project which involved a number of years of careful planning and resulted in more than just a new football stadium.

Aran Barker (Project Manager at Collie) was working in London at the time that the new stadium was being planned and was one of the planning officers at the London Borough of Islington (Council) who assessed the planning applications and who worked with Arsenal and with the local community to help make the development a success.  The following is Aran’s overview of the process and some of the key issues which were involved.

Arsenal had been based at its home ground of ‘Highbury’ (in Islington) since 1913.  Over the years however, the capacity of ‘Highbury’ had reduced from a peak of approximately 73,000 (when terraces and standing areas were allowed) to approximately 38,000.  Significantly, the ground also had limited corporate facilities (a major source of income for modern football clubs).

Options to redevelop Highbury were explored by Arsenal however, the ground was completely surrounded by residential properties, severely limiting potential expansion.  Arsenal was keen to retain its links to the local community however, and so began exploring the feasibility of building a new stadium in the same general area (an ambitious task when you consider that Islington is one of the smallest and most densely developed Boroughs in inner London!).  Council was also keen to keep Arsenal in the Borough because of the success of the football team, the positive work which Arsenal did within the community and the profile the Club brings to the area.

In November 1999, following early feasibility work, Arsenal approached Council to discuss the potential of building a new stadium on an area of nearby industrial and warehousing land known as ‘Ashburton Grove’.  Council supported the general concept and in early 2000 prepared a series of ‘development briefs’ to help guide the progression and details of the project.  

The Planning Applications
In November 2000 Arsenal submitted three planning applications and one ‘listed building’ application to Council.  Together the applications represented the largest and most complex planning applications ever considered by the London Borough of Islington. 

The applications provided for development of the stadium itself and various associated buildings and infrastructure as well as an extensive amount of ‘enabling development’ (to facilitate and help finance the development).  The proposals also provided for the redevelopment of ‘Highbury’ from football ground to residential use. 

In combination, the planning applications provided for the following.

  • A new football stadium (60,000 seats).
  • New associated Arsenal buildings (Club museum, education centre, souvenir shop, ticket office and so on).
  • New and improved Council depot and ‘waste and recycling centre’ (to replace existing facilities which would be displaced by the new stadium).
  • Approximately 2,000 new homes (including 600 affordable homes).
  • Approximately 17,000m2 of new business (office) floorspace.
  • Approximately 11,000m2 of new shops, financial services, restaurants and other commercial space.
  • 4 community health centres.
  • 2 childrens nurseries.
  • Approximately 3 hectares of new public open space.
  • Various financial contributions. 

In considering the applications, Council officers investigated and assessed a broad range of issues including: the resulting loss of industrial and warehousing floorspace (a scarce resource in central London); likely impacts on transport infrastructure (including the road network and public transport systems); the impact on over 100 existing businesses who would be displaced by the development (including Council’s own vehicle depot and waste transfer station); employment and job implications; impact on community and social services; heritage matters; sustainability issues and many more. 

Following a number of negotiated changes and amendments, Council officers recommended that the applications be approved.  Critical to the recommendation was a complex legal agreement which was negotiated between Council officers and Arsenal.  The agreement secured numerous project benefits including a £7.6m contribution towards public transport upgrades; heavy restrictions on the permitted numbers of car parking spaces (and various other measures to discourage car travel); detailed measures to assist in the re-location of displaced businesses (including an obligation on Arsenal to pay rent subsidies); the construction of a new municipal waste and recycling centre and depot; and the provision of new open space areas, public art and other community benefits.  In December 2001, and in accordance with officers recommendations, the Council voted to approve the applications.

The Council decision was supported subsequently by the Mayor of London (who determined not to refuse the application), the Secretary of State (who determined not to ‘call in’ the application) and by the High Court (that dismissed challenges from objector groups against the Council decision).

Work on the enabling development commenced in August 2002 and on the stadium itself in March 2004.  The new football stadium was officially opened during 2006, and is now regarded as one of the premier football grounds in Europe.  Much of the associated development has also been completed.  

Further Details

For further details about the Arsenal project, Aran can be contacted by email at awb@colliepl.com.au (Despite his close involvement in the Arsenal project over a number of years, Aran remains a committed fan of Arsenal’s cross town football rival, West Ham United …‘Come on you Irons!!’)