Tom Pendry, the shadow sports minister, says Labour is prepared to listen to arguments in favour of reopening standing areas that were closed in major grounds at the recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor following the 1989 tragedy at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium, when 95 spectators died as a result of a crush on the terraces at an FA Cup semi-final.
Pendry is endorsing an electronic crowd monitoring system developed by an engineering firm in Warrington which, it is claimed, makes standing terraces safe. The move has been welcomed by football supporters' groups, who say many fans would still prefer to stand at matches despite the massive upgrading of facilities that followed the Taylor Report.
But the FA Carling Premiership and the Football League yesterday expressed doubts that clubs in the Premiership and the Nationwide League First Division would be prepared to reintroduce standing areas, and a Football Association spokesman, Steve Double, said: "Clubs would see going back to terraces as something involving a lot more expense."
Trevor Hicks, the chairman of the Hillsborough Families' Support Group, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, attacked the move as a "retrograde and potentially dangerous step for which there is no sensible argument in support. One could be churlish and say it is a cheap gimmick to get votes."
Pendry said that there was a great feeling among fans that all-seat stadiums lack the atmosphere generated by the packed terraces of old and that high charges for seats were pricing certain spectators out of the game. "No one is advocating going back to standing areas all across the ground," he said. "But football supporters are saying that there should be a healthy mix. We owe it to the people who died at Hillsborough, Heysel and Bradford to make sure that safety is paramount, but nuclear scientists in Warrington have developed these safe standing areas and we have to look at it."
A research team at NNC, formerly the National Nuclear Corporation but now a private engineering consultancy, devised the system in the wake of Hillsborough but too late for consideration by Lord Justice Taylor. No football club approached about the system has taken it up, but a version was used to aid crowd safety in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve.
The system works by installing pressure sensors at strategic points, such as crush barriers and exit gates. These are linked to a computer screen which would warn if crowd pressure was reaching dangerous levels.
Rogan Taylor, a former chairman of the Football Supporters' Association and now a football researcher at Liverpool University, welcomed Pendry's move. "Fans really miss the terraces," he said. "Going to see Liverpool is not the same as it once was."
Leading article, page 11