Ann Ramage, Head of Environmental Health (Commercial), explained that the council was responsible for ensuring safety at sports grounds in Hammersmith and Fulham. There were a minimum of 65 fixtures in the borough each season, although cup competitions and European games could increase this number to well over 100 in some years. This meant that there was a significant amount of work for officers to do to keep fans safe.
Most of what the council did was collaborative work to point out potential problems and get those responsible to deal with these. All involved generally understood the importance of safety and the potential impact if things went wrong so it was relatively easy to make improvements. Resident concerns were also dealt with by officers and all three clubs seemed keen to ensure that their neighbours were not adversely affected by games any more than necessary.
There were also a number of formal mechanisms such as the Safety Certificate which allowed officers to set the number of spectators permitted in each stand. The capacity was determined by both the physical structure and capacity of the stand and the safety management arrangements in place. Other formal aspects of the work included arranging and holding Safety Advisory Group (SAG) meetings which regularly see all agencies and the club discuss the operation of the stadium and resolve any issues. Supporters are also involved in these meetings, and while it is not possible to include them in the meetings due to confidentiality, they were now being involved in the work of SAGs as the Council was sharing the agenda with recognised supporter groups and allowing them to put their views forward, either in writing, or if necessary in particular circumstances, in person.
The main challenges to ensuring safety in recent times had been:
- The attitudes of television companies and national and international governing bodies, in particular in relation to match scheduling.
- The reduction in police support inside stadiums and the support needed by clubs to take on more responsibility for managing crowd behaviour.
- The need to understand and respond to the different football cultures which existed outside of the UK when their teams came to play in the borough.
- The difficulty of getting large numbers of fans into the stadium in a short period of time.
The Chair asked what the cost of providing this service was. Ann Ramage explained that it was difficult to calculate the cost, as whilst there was a core team of three officers, there was also a lot of time spent by other officers from across the council on ensuring safety. She noted that Hammersmith and Fulham was unique in having three professional football teams within its boundaries. She also explained that the clubs were generally willing to pay for improvements which officers thought were necessary.
Councillor Dewhirst asked how residents had responded to the extended closure of Fulham Road on Chelsea FC matchdays. Ann Ramage explained that the changes and the reasons for them had been well communicated to those affected and so very little negative feedback had been received. It had simplified the traffic management arrangements which had been welcomed by many, including London Buses. Vehicular access for residents was facilitated where safe to do so during road closures, which was welcomed.
Councillor Harcourt said that the amount of work done by officers to keep fans safe was impressive. The Chair thanked officers for their presentation and their work to keep fans, including himself, safe.