Altering or Extending a Sports Ground
It is not uncommon for sports grounds operators to make changes to their grounds, or a stand within it, for reasons such as improving the spectator experience through better facilities and services, increasing the capacity, installing demountable or temporary installations for hosting different activities, or even new structures that may be required to facilitate outside broadcasting.
Designated sports grounds that operate under a general safety certificate, or non-designated sports grounds with ‘regulated stands’ that meet the criteria to be certificated, are required by law to notify proposed alterations or extensions. Specifically, under section 8 of the Sports Grounds Act 1975 and section 32 of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sports Act 1987, the certificate holder is required to notify the local authority of any proposed alterations or extensions that are likely to affect the safety of spectators. The relevant section of the 1975 act (below) is repeated in the 1987 Act almost word for word other than the necessary change in reference from sports ground to regulated stand.
Alterations and extensions
(1) If while a general safety certificate is in operation with respect to a sports ground it is proposed to alter or extend that sports ground or any of its installations, and the alteration or extension is likely to affect the safety of persons at the sports ground, the holder of the certificate shall, before the carrying out of the proposals is begun, give notice of the proposals to the local authority.
(2) Subsection (1) above in particular requires notice when it is proposed to alter the entrances to or exits from a sports ground or any part of it (including any means of escape in case of fire or other emergency) or the means of access to any such entrances or exits.”
The words “... is likely to affect the safety of persons…..” are used in relation to what the changes are at a ground that qualify for notification. Unfortunately, these are not defined but it is difficult to think of many changes to a ground or stand that do not in some way impact upon the safety through crowd movement, spectator flow rates, egress/access routes, evacuation timings, travel distances, safety of structures, spectator capacities and many more examples. It would therefore always seem sensible for certificate holders with the responsibility for notification to always impact access their proposed changes against safety requirements, and preferably be cautious in such an important matter and discuss matters with the local certificating authority first.
It is important to remind certificate holders that in addition to the requirements of the primary legislation on the matter of notifying changes to sports grounds, it is usual for general safety certificates to incorporate core terms and conditions that reinforce and widen this requirement of notification, and importantly give detail on process, including timeframes and provision of supporting information (e.g. plans, calculations, risk assessments, operational plans) that must be met when submitting proposals.
Standards of spectator safety at sports grounds are high and must be maintained, hence the framework of requirements designed to ensure that consultation on proposed changes takes place and will involve, through the local Safety Advisory Group, the relevant input of the other interested parties such as Police, Fire and Ambulance Services. This ensures that there are no surprises down the track when an alteration to achieve a certain improvement adversely impacts on people’s safety in another area. A part of the final process when implementing alterations and extensions to sports grounds will be the review of the (P) and (S) factors in respect of the safe capacity for the ground or part of it, and it should be understood that while a change is being made, even when designed to ultimately increase a ground capacity, an interim cut may be required while any construction work is carried out or new systems are tested.
There are instances of certificate holders pushing ahead with changes to sports grounds with the laudable intention of making improvements for their customers, but without going through the appropriate consultation and validation process with the certificating authority. It is essential that certificate holders together with their ground management teams who are often the ones responsible for implementing the works and changes, ensure they are familiar with the legal requirements, including the terms and conditions of the safety certificate that apply to their grounds and follow them (it is an offence to contravene a safety certificate condition); it is also likely that building control consent would be required in regard to structural changes.