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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September 2004, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Falmer inquiry 'too long' says PM
Fans march along Brighton seafront
Thousands of fans took part in a peaceful protest on Monday
Prime Minister Tony Blair has admitted the inquiry into whether Brighton and Hove Albion can build a new stadium has been complicated and taken too long.

The public inquiry started in February 2003 and is due to re-open in February 2005 with no verdict before then.

Mr Blair told BBC South East the process should be simplified and said the government was looking to do so.

He said he "totally understood" the frustration of fans who were anxious for the club to get a new stadium.

I'm aware of the strength of feeling here, certainly
Tony Blair

Brighton's former home, the Goldstone Ground, closed in 1997 after the former chairman sold the site for development.

The team now plays at Withdean, an athletics stadium in the city, with a capacity of about 7,000.

The Seagulls applied three years ago for planning permission to build a 22,000-seater stadium at Falmer, on the outskirts of Brighton.

Some local residents have opposed the scheme.

Withdean Stadium
Brighton currently play home games at 7,000-seater Withdean Stadium

On Monday, about 4,000 fans marched along the seafront to the Brighton Centre - venue of the Labour Party conference - to draw attention to their plight.

In an exclusive interview, with BBC South East, on Thursday, the Prime Minister - a keen football fan who supports Newcastle United - said the inquiry had taken too long.

Mr Blair said: "It should be simplified and we've got a bill before Parliament that will actually simplify it."

Asked about the fans' feelings that it was ridiculous for a club playing in the Championship and in a city the size of Brighton not to have its own stadium, Mr Blair said: "I totally understand."

He added: "The only reason I don't comment on it is that it's a statutory responsibility John Prescott has and he's got to exercise it in a statutory way so I cannot actually comment on it.

"But I'm aware of the strength of feeling here, certainly."

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27 Jul 04 |  Southern Counties


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