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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Charting the long road to Falmer
By Stuart Richards
BBC News, Sussex

Withdean athletics stadium
Football has been played at the Withdean stadium since 1999

Two public inquiries, a quashed government decision, the formation of a new political party and countless protest marches.

There has certainly been a great deal of off-the-pitch action during Brighton and Hove Albion FC's decade-long campaign for a new football stadium, before permission to build it was finally granted on Tuesday.

The long road to Falmer began in 1997 when the club's Goldstone Ground was closed and sold off to become a retail park.

After two years ground-sharing with Gillingham FC, in Kent, the Seagulls then moved into the limited-capacity Withdean athletics stadium on the outskirts of Brighton.

Also in 1999, 68% of city residents who took part in a referendum held at the same time as that year's council elections voted in favour of the club moving to Falmer.

Turmoil and uncertainty

So two years later, a planning application for a new 23,000-seater ground close to the A27 and the University of Sussex was submitted to Brighton and Hove City Council.

Like the city's MPs, the local authority has always backed the plans, and its planning committee approved them by 11 votes to one in 2002.

Brighton and Hove Albion fans
Celebrations were cut short after the stadium was approved in late 2005

But anyone involved with the club who raised a glass of champagne then was in for a big surprise and more turmoil and uncertainty.

In footballing terms the club has gone through 12 managers, three promotions and two relegations since 1997.

But that has all been set against a backdrop of political wrangling and desperate pleas from supporters' groups for the new stadium to be built.

Following the public inquiries, the then-deputy prime minister John Prescott approved the plans in October 2005, to the delight of the club.

But the celebrations quickly turned sour when Lewes District Council announced it would appeal against the decision on planning grounds.

In addition, the South Downs Joint Committee, Falmer Parish Council and the Campaign to Protect Rural England all opposed the plans because of environmental concerns.

Land at Falmer
A proposed national park no longer includes the stadium site

Ultimately the Lewes council appeal was not needed though, as in April 2006 the government was forced to quash Mr Prescott's decision because of a mistake in his approval letter regarding the site of the proposed stadium.

All the interested parties had to resubmit their arguments to the Department for Communities and Local Government, as the then secretary of state, Ruth Kelly, reviewed the plans, including how several other potential sites were assessed during the public inquiries.

Supporters from the Falmer For All campaign decided they needed to wield their own political power in the stadium saga, and The Seagulls Party was established in June last year with the intention of fielding candidates at local elections.

In April this year they marked their 10-year fight by delivering and sending tens of thousands of signed campaign postcards to the government.

They will be among the many fans celebrating the decision to give the club permission to build at Falmer - and looking forward to taking their seats in the new stadium.




SEE ALSO
Seagulls cautious at stadium news
24 Jul 07 |  Brighton
National park boundaries revised
02 Jul 07 |  England
Fans mark 10-year stadium fight
26 Apr 07 |  Sussex
Fatboy to poll gig fans on Falmer
28 Dec 06 |  Southern Counties
Stadium court hearing called off
03 Oct 06 |  Southern Counties
Club's fans form political party
05 Jun 06 |  Southern Counties
Delay for Brighton stadium plan
07 Apr 06 |  Brighton
Club celebrates stadium decision
29 Oct 05 |  Southern Counties

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