Tube chaos threatened as Arsenal deal fails

Upgrading of the nearest station to the club's new stadium may not be completed until as late as 2010, says Transport for London
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The Independent Online

Arsenal fans face potential travel chaos next season after the collapse of a £7.5m deal between the football club and Transport for London (TfL) to increase capacity at Holloway Road, the Tube station nearest its new 60,000-seat stadium.

The Premiership side had agreed to pay the money as part of its move to the Emirates Stadium in Ashburton Grove, an area between Holloway Road and Highbury, its current home, in north London. An extra 22,000 fans will descend on matchdays from next August, while new homes being built as part of the development will increase the number of residents in the area.

But after what Arsenal claim were delays at TfL, the project has been shelved and the cash will no longer be handed over. Transport improvements in the area will go ahead, and TfL has set £50m aside for the purpose. But it is still deciding what will be done and a spokesman said work was unlikely to be finished until 2010.

"There will be no capacity improvements ready in time for the opening of the new Ashburton Grove stadium," he said. "The original plan was simply to increase capacity but we're now looking at a transport plan that covers the whole area."

The four closest Tube stations are Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road, Arsenal and Finsbury Park, although the last is at least a 20-minute walk away.

The TfL spokesman said the original plan was changed after a £10bn investment programme for the London Underground was secured last year. But he remained confident fans would not suffer: "We're happy and content we will be able to manage all the people travelling to Arsenal on matchdays."

The new home - which will be called the Emirates Stadium following a sponsorship deal with the Dubai-based airline worth more than £100m - is costing Arsenal around £350m. But the refinancing of loans taken out to pay for it is already under way. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are leading the deal, which will include a fixed rate, 25-year bond of £200m.

Arsenal will then pay interest of £20m a year, although that will be cut to £13m after the redevelopment of the old ground.

Although one of Europe's leading clubs, Arsenal's current home seats just 38,000; in comparison, Manchester United's ground, Old Trafford, seats 68,000. Arsenal's managing director, Keith Edelman, said the stadium would boost turnover from around £115m to £170m a year, and provide an extra £30m profits in its first year; net profits last year came in at £8.2m. The hike will come through extra ticket sales, enlarged corporate hospitality facilities and by expanding the stadium's uses.

Mr Edelman revealed, for example, that fans will be able to marry on site. "We are applying for a licence," he confirmed, although no decision has been taken about allowing couples to marry on the pitch. They will then be able to hold their receptions in the various restaurants and bars.

The club will not, however, be staging concerts, as planned by London's other new stadium, Wembley. "We've got a pitch to think about," said Mr Edelman.

The club has various options on what the increased profits could be used for, from buying new players to paying its first dividend to shareholders, said Mr Edelman. But he added: "We're not planning on giving [a dividend] this year or next."

Arsenal has secured Delaware North to provide catering in the new stadium. The US group will pay £15m as well as a catering rights fee for each year of the 20-year deal.

The club is still renegotiating terms with existing sub-sponsors, such as JVC, Thomas Cook and kit sponsor Nike. JVC has been associated with Arsenal for many years, including a stint as shirt sponsor. But Mr Edelman said the club was unlikely to use JVC's televisions at the new stadium because they are "quite expensive".