Arsenal's marble halls are saved for posterity

LAn Art Deco football stand at the London home of Arsenal was saved for posterity yesterday after Tony Banks, the soccer-mad sports and heritage minister, granted it listed status. The East Stand at Highbury stadium - a ground immortalised in Arsenal supporter Nick Hornby's book Fever Pitch - follows Wembley and Fulham's Craven Cottage on to the protected list of football grounds.

But many fans breathed a sigh of relief when Mr Banks, a supporter of London rivals Chelsea, decided against English Heritage's recommendation to list the West Stand too.

Doing so would would have complicated Arsenal's planned expansion and, it was feared, precipitated a move from the much-loved site. Any changes to a listed building have to be agreed with the local authority to ensure that the features are preserved.

The compromise was welcomed by Simon Inglis, author of The Football Grounds of Britain. Both stands would have been listed in an ideal world, but saving the East Stand, which is graced with a marble lobby, was logical and sensible. "The West Stand is the older of the two and set the tone, but the stand itself is fairly rudimentary. If its demolition is the price that Arsenal pay for remaining at Highbury then I think, reluctantly, it's a price worth paying," he said. "Highbury is one of the finest traditional football stadiums in the world and Arsenal have done a great deal to preserve that spirit. It really is the Lords of the football world. It is an institution."

A spokeswoman for Islington Council, in whose borough the stadium lies, said the club had approached it earlier this year about possible expansion.

Listing the East Stand did not seriously affect the guidance it was drawing up on the feasibility of a planning application as the West Stand is regarded as the crux of any expansion.

If Mr Banks - whose duties include making the final decision on English Heritage's listing recommendations - had granted this listed status, it might have proved an insuperable problem for the club.

But any development will still face opposition from residents whose homes might be affected. Councillors met last night to discuss a draft planning brief.

Highbury is regularly packed to its 38,200 capacity. It is understood that it would like to be able to take another 10,000.

An Arsenal spokeswoman said the club had no formal plans. But she added: "You only have to look at the stand we put up at the north end to see we took great pains to fit it in with the Art Deco. We're proud of the way the stadium looks and are looking to enhance it."

An English Heritage spokeswoman said the two stands should be considered for listing together.

But she said: "We recognise that the East Stand is the more architecturally distinguished of the two and we're really glad it has been listed ..."

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