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CAMPAIGN FOR COMMUNITY SPORTS CENTRE AT ARSENAL B3

By Ian Shacklock
July 23 2008

Where are we now? There have been no organised events or deliveries since 13th May, but we have been consolidating our position by keeping the sports centre issue alive in the local press and through ongoing communication with Arsenal and the Council.  

 

It is quite clear that an indoor football facility does not fit neatly into Arsenal's current global business model, since they train their top players elsewhere and they can make a lot more money in other ways, and at times it appears that the Club's association with Islington is merely incidental.

Nevertheless, an indoor football pitch should be seen as a bonus, not a handicap, for Arsenal and the Council. It would also restore some faith in the Council, it would take some strain off the Community Support Police Officers and it would guarantee publicity for any third party sponsors who were willing to support the scheme. We have made Arsenal and the Council aware of these views but they have chosen not to comment while the planning application is in progress.

There have been some developments and setbacks in recent weeks. In May, a colour brochure was circulated, in the name of Arsenal, to a restricted number of households in the Highbury area. It contained illustrations of the proposed tower blocks, along with justifications for dropping the sports centre (very similar to the arguments expressed by the Council in the letter they sent to the petition signatories). This infuriated more people than it placated and in an unprecedented move the Council told Arsenal to go back to the drawing board. The reasons given were that the proposed development was too large, and that proposals for a new multiplex cinema would have put the historic Holloway Odeon at risk. The sports centre issue was not cited as a reason, but we can safely assume that our 3,000 signatures had already sent an unambiguous signal of public disquiet.

What has happened to the £1.8M?

I raised this matter in a public question at the full council meeting on 26th June, and I can infer from the councillor's response that none of this money is earmarked for Queensland Road, as it will all be ploughed into the Sobell refurbishment. The Council are unlikely to reallocate this money unless (a) they receive a surprise donation in the next few weeks or (b) they are forced to scale down their ambitious plans for refurbishment and property development. The Council's plans are not fixed, because they are undergoing a public consultation process, the building industry may not be prepared to adopt this project in the current economic climate, and the plans and expenditure are being challenged by a separate campaign that has been organised by the councillors in Finsbury Park.

This is a regrettable situation because this money was originally intended for a replacement for the JVC Centre. However, we cannot afford to put this campaign on hold while we debate the usage of this money, and we should continue to seek alternative sources of funds.
(e.g. the National Lottery, O2/Emirates/JVC/EDF/Barclays, PlayFootball.net, or the anti-knife crime initiatives that the Mayor of London is trying to roll out)

Who would benefit?

The indoor football pitch would obviously be popular with local children, both during and outside school hours, and it would be an invaluable base for the Arsenal in the Community programme. But it would also appeal to people in other age groups and from other areas. As a tourist attraction, it would nicely balance out the Museum, the Stadium tours and the Merchandise shop at the Emirates Stadium, and it would be particularly attractive to energetic supporters visiting from overseas.


Are we being unreasonable?

Arsenal (or their agents) have re-iterated in a brochure that (a) they have already pledged £1.8M to the Council, (b) the public never had any automatic right to use the JVC Centre, since it was a private facility and (c) the former JVC Centre activities have been superseded by the services of the Arsenal in the Community and the Soccer Schools programmes.

So, to an outsider, it would appear that Arsenal have already "done their bit" and that we are being unfair. However, these views are not shared by the many end-users of the current services, such as parents, teachers and sports coaches.

(a) Some people might think that the £1.8M was an unsolicited donation, while others perceive it as an obligatory condition of the stadium development, under a section 106 agreement. In any event, Arsenal are now £1.8M poorer, yet the community still have no indoor football pitch. So it is probably unreasonable to expect Arsenal to pay the full costs of a new facility, but it is not unreasonable to expect them to use their powers to assist in the process.

(b) We can accept that the former JVC Centre was privately owned, but this is immaterial, because the proposed replacement centre was promoted as a community facility in the glossy brochures distributed throughout the neighbourhood. It was a selling point of the development, and helped to form the basis of public consent for the stadium. It was never seen as a disposable optional item.

(c) The soccer schools programme is admirable and it has helped Arsenal to become an international brand.  Likewise, the Arsenal in the Community programme. But these schemes are under-represented at their home base, and we could rectify this with a sports hall at Queensland Road. Communities cannot thrive on web pages and mobile phones alone; they need a meeting point that they can call home.

What possible outcomes can we expect?

Worst case scenario: no indoor football pitch whatsoever; the Emirates site will become a zone of physical inactivity. Arsenal will have won a legal battle, but with egg on their face.

Best case scenario: a 7-a-side pitch, with additional space for other activities, including a function room

Healthy compromise: a 7-a-side pitch that can be converted to two 5-a-side pitches, or part‑used for indoor bowling for pensioners or for tennis, hockey, etc.

Weak compromise: space for a 5-a-side pitch, but little else. This would suffice for children's parties but it would not really cater for more serious usage.

For further information...

If you would like to see copies of newspaper cuttings, Sobell or Queensland Road brochures, the original proposals from the turn of the century or any other relevant information then please send an e-mail to ianshacklock@gmail.com. Please state whether you are averse to receiving attachments larger than 1MB; if so, then you can request hardcopies instead.

For up-to-date information, or opinions, on this campaign please visit http://www.arsenaltimes.com/ or http://www.thefootballnetwork.net/main/s378/p5.htm?sectionid=2043

Ian Shacklock

Campaign Coordinator                                                                                                                 22-Jul-2008

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CAMPAIGN FOR COMMUNITY SPORTS CENTRE AT ARSENAL B3
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23/07/2008 20:45
CAMPAIGN FOR COMMUNITY SPORTS CENTRE AT ARSENAL B3

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