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‘Minded To’ Decision for the Wider Implementation of Licensed Standing Areas in Football Stadia

Statement made on 24 May 2022

Statement UIN HCWS52

Statement

On 1 January 2022, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) successfully launched the ‘Early Adopter Programme’ for Licensed Standing in Seated Areas at football stadia, with the full backing of Parliament and key footballing stakeholders. This represented a significant step towards fulfilling the Government’s manifesto commitment ‘to work with fans and clubs towards introducing licensed standing in seated areas at football grounds’.

In a Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament, made on 8 November 2021, I confirmed that the ‘Early Adopter Programme’ was intended to enable the Government to evaluate how successful licensed standing areas could be as a strategy to manage persistent standing. The Early Adopter Programme was implemented during the second half of the 2021/22 football season and has been subject to a formal independent evaluation. The evaluation has included a series of match-day visits to observe supporter behaviour and the implementation of safety management practices as well as interviews with a range of staff involved in managing safety at each club such as SGSA inspectors, section supervisors responsible for the licensed standing areas, supporter liaison officers and representatives from both the local police and Safety Advisory Group (SAG).

On 23 April 2022, the SGSA published the ‘Interim Report’ by CFE Research, which we are delighted has confirmed that researchers have ‘not witnessed anything during match observations in 2022 or gathered any evidence to date that contradicts [the previous research finding that] installing barriers or rails in areas of persistent standing in seated accommodation continues to have a positive impact on spectator safety, particularly in mitigating the risk of a progressive crowd collapse by limiting forwards and backwards movement’.

I am pleased to note that the Interim Report has identified a number of further positive impacts of installing barriers or rails, which are also consistent with the findings of the 2019-20 study, The Safe Management of Persistent Standing in Seated Areas at Football Stadia published by the SGSA in June 2021. These include: celebrations are more orderly with no opportunity for forwards and backwards movement; egress is more uniform because barriers limit spectators’ ability to climb over seats to exit more quickly; it is easier to identify pockets of overcrowding in these areas; and barriers offer stability for people moving up and down aisles and gangways.

The Interim Report also noted that operating licensed standing areas has the additional benefit of removing ‘the need for safety teams to make spectators sit down, reducing potential conflict between staff and spectators’ while also enhancing the match-day experience of spectators and customer service by enabling clubs to respond to spectators’ seating preferences. In addition, it has concluded that there is no evidence to date that the introduction of licensed standing areas has led to an increase in persistent standing elsewhere in the stadia.

Alongside the SGSA, we have carefully considered the findings of the Interim Report, and with this robust evidence in hand, I am ‘minded to’ change the existing all-seater policy to allow all clubs currently subject to this requirement to introduce licensed standing areas for the start of the 2022/23 season, provided they have met certain strict criteria, which are available online. The SGSA has also produced Supplementary Guidance (SG01) providing further information about the standards/requirements that must be met. This guidance is available online. Other areas of the grounds will continue to remain ‘all-seated’.

It is important to note that I have not taken the final decision at this stage, and any change to the existing all-seater policy will remain contingent upon the CFE Research Final Evaluation Report confirming the findings of the Interim Report, which note that licensed standing areas provide for an equivalent (if not improved) level of spectator safety. We will also ensure that key stakeholders continue to have sufficient opportunity to provide any additional observations/feedback not already captured.

The Government’s approach has been driven by safety considerations throughout and this will continue to be our priority. We are not complacent about spectator safety, nor are we complacent about the safety policies that have served spectators well for many years. We will continue to work closely with the SGSA, football clubs, the football governing bodies and local authorities to ensure that spectator safety remains paramount.

Linked statements

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
‘Minded To’ Decision for the Wider Implementation of Licensed Standing Areas in Football Stadia
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
Minister for Arts
Conservative, Life peer
Statement made 24 May 2022
HLWS51
Lords