Greenwich councillors have approved plans to host a Euro 2020 fan zone for 30,000 people in Greenwich Park this summer – despite worries over whether the area’s transport infrastructure will be able to cope.
Up to 12 matches will be shown on big screens in the park in June and July at the north end of the park in front of the Queen’s House, the same area that hosted events during the London Olympics in 2012.
Councillors acknowledged the event would cause disruption for neighbours of the park, but said it would be outweighed by the benefits to the wider borough.
The size of the event – the stadium built for the Olympics in 2012 held only 22,000 people – came in for criticism, but organisers said they had fought off pressure from Uefa to squeeze even more people into the park.
Wednesday’s special planning board meeting also saw the chair of planning, Sarah Merrill, tick off residents – whose contributions to the meeting had been limited to two minutes each – for heckling and mocking representations from supporters of the application. “I know people have made comments about the potential behaviour of football fans, but you think it’s perfectly acceptable to shout out from the back and heckle,” she said.
The fan zone is part of London’s successful bid to host seven matches during the European Championships, which are being held across the continent to make 60 years since the first tournament. Matches from the home nations and the final will be broadcast in the park, with the latest finish time – taking into account potential extra time and penalties – being at midnight, on the night of the final.
Construction is due to begin on 26 May and the site will be cleared by 24 July.
Council officers had raised concerns about transport in their report, stating: “It is envisaged that approximately 80% of all fan zone spectators will arrive by public transport but insufficient information is supplied to support this.” Councillors heard there are plans for a doubling of the Docklands Light Railway service from 12 to 24 trains per hour to help shift crowds, while Southeastern plans to provide up to two extra evening trains to help people get away.
Allocations of tickets will be reserved both for people within Greenwich borough and also within half-an-hour’s walk of the park – with the latter allocation to be increased if plans for extra transport fall through.
Liz Coyle, of the Friends of Greenwich Park, said the group opposed the plans because of the “considerable disruption and loss of amenity”. “We like the idea of a fan zone in London, but there is no shortage of stadia and sports grounds in London where such an event would be a success. Greenwich Park is totally the wrong place; it too small, it is difficult to get to by public transport, and totally unsuitable to accommodate 30,000 spectators, especially in one area over a number of days,” she said.
One local resident said that because there was no “raked seating”, it could risk conflicts involving families with children. “Arguments will break out, and if enough alcohol has been consumed, quite possibly fisticuffs,” he said. “Suppose a couple of busloads of Croatian tourists turn up, waving their checkered flag and chanting in the faces of the England fans. I would suggest they wouldn’t get a friendly reception and there could be serious trouble,” he said, raising fears about a lack of segregation.
Marilyn Little of the Westcombe Society said she feared other people would be deterred from visiting Greenwich, while Patrick Ives of the East Greenwich Residents’ Association raised the issue of diesel generators being used. “Apparently we’re in a low emissions zone,” he added.
But Daniel Bernstein of Emergency Exit Arts, which is involved with the project, said “It’s a huge opportunity for Greenwich on a worldwide scale. All the people for Thamesmead, from Eltham, from Woolwich, the places around Woolwich, where some people in this room perhaps do not come from. This is an opportunity for us to pull together and bring diverse Greenwich into the park for a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Franck Bordese of the Greenwich Cultural Forum, an organisation formed out of Greenwich’s first bid to be London Borough of Culture, said: “Football attracts a very diverse audience. We’ve all seen all the people against this event. We believe that bringing people [to the park] from the east and south of Greenwich [borough], who because of socio-economic or even ethnic backgrounds don’t come to Greenwich Park, [which] is a great loss to Greenwich Park and to them.
“We believe free tickets will entice them to Greenwich and come to come to Greenwich Park. And because the matches are only an hour and a half long so the rest of the time they re in Greenwich, they can visit the shops, visit the museum, and visit the libraries, and everything that is beautiful about Greenwich.”
Jenny Jones of Loudsound, the company putting on the event, said there would be a children’s area but no no-alcohol area. “I’d get annoyed if someone throws a pint over my family,” Charlton councillor Gary Dillon commented. She said the company had put on a similar event for the England v Croatia World Cup semi-final in Hyde Park in 2018 and dismissed fears of crowd surges, saying the that people would tended to jump up rather than surge forward in moments of celebration.
Loudsound representatives also said that because tickets were being allocated in a ballot, it would help them to manage people travelling to and from the event because they would know where they were coming from.
Councillors approved the plans by nine votes to one, subject to conditions that extending permit parking into the Westcombe Park area would be investigated. Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty, who represents Blackheath Westcombe, voted against the scheme, saying there had been a “fair amount of reassurance” about the scheme but here would still be “considerable disruption to local residents” and a lack of detail about extra rail services.
But Merrill, the chair of planning, said: “I know it sounds trite, but I do understand the concerns of residents. But like the benefits to the residents of the borough as a whole outweigh those concerns. It is for a month, its’ not every day, it’s only at certain match times, a lot of the park will accessible most of the time and the rest of the park will be accessible when matches are being played.”
853 was the only media outlet at the meeting. Video of some of the discussions is on this Vimeo playlist.
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