‘AO Arena security plan lack sting’



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Manchester Arena licence issue Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

The police and Council officials have objected to changes to the Manchester Arena’s (UK) premises licence due to concerns around the level of counter-terrorism training for staff, supply of first aid and CCTV access.

The ‘Manchester Evening News’ stated that SMG, the operators of the AO Arena, have submitted plans to revamp its operations schedule, which sets out how the venue will prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, as well as protect the safety of the public and children from harm.

The 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, known as the AO Arena for sponsorship reasons, is an indoor arena in Manchester, England, immediately North of the City Centre and partly above the Manchester Victoria station in air rights space.

The venue’s reconfiguration plans, submitted to the Manchester City Council by operators ASM Global, aim to deliver a transformed visitor experience, improve the sustainability of the existing venue to become one of the lowest carbon venues in Europe, enhance its existing access to onsite transport links, and act as hub for its communities. Over 6,800 people from across Greater Manchester provided feedback as part of an extensive consultation on the plans, with 94 percent voting positively on the proposals.

It would be the first changes to the existing licence since it was granted in 2005, and since terrorist attack at the arena in 2017 which killed 22 people.

The ‘Manchester Evening News’ further stated that while the principle is being supported by the Greater Manchester Police and Manchester Council’s licensing officers, the authorities are opposed to the application in its current form.

They suggest that the plan “lacks specific detail” and is “not robust enough” on issues such as counter-terrorism, staff training, CCTV, first aid, and noise management.

Calls have also been made for a “greater buy-in” to tackle illegal street traders selling counterfeit merchandise outside the venue, which pose “not only a dispersal issue but should also be considered as a means for implementing a hostile attack”.

The SMG said they have provided further information to the Greater Manchester Police and the Council and “continue to work with all parties to confirm the terms of the renewed licence”.

The application proposes the introduction of a new operational management plan (OMP) that would be “reviewed and revised” when planning for specific events at the arena.

It would include a counterterrorism and security plan complying with the proposed Protect Duty, a new law which would impose a legal obligation on organizations to consider the safety and security of staff and the public using their venues.

The legislation aligns with ‘Martyn’s Law’, a campaign for stricter security measures named after Martyn Hett, one of the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.

In his written objection, PC Alan Isherwood of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said the procedures within the operational management plan were to be expected but the force had so far seen no further details apart from a “non-exhaustive list”.

PC Isherwood stated, “The Greater Manchester Police would have expected to have had sight of an overarching OMP which would form the framework for how all events are managed and then examples of event specific plans and procedures so that we could see whether they stood up to scrutiny and were fit for purpose.”

Added Isherwood, “The application states that a specific event, written risk assessment form will be completed and made available for any event that is carried on by any person not affiliated with the venue which implies that they wouldn’t have to do this for an act or show that was affiliated to the venue, but this could result in a situation where numerous events were not risk assessed.”

The Greater Manchester Police also wants the CCTV operation at the arena to be in operation 24 hours a day to help with investigating complaints, but SMG have specified that it would only be enforced “whilst the premises are open for licensable activity”.

There are also concerns that some events might not be risk assessed as the application says risk assessments would only be carried out and made available to the licensing authorities for events “not affiliated with the venue”.

Isherwood continued, “The Greater Manchester Police completely understands the intention to make the premises licence more fit for purpose but until our concerns, which are outlined in this representation, are satisfied we would not support the variation being granted.”

The Manchester Council’s licensing and out of hours compliance team raised similar issues in their objection to the current application.

SMG have been asked to provide more information on the proposed provision of appropriate medical equipment at the venue, particularly in the event of an emergency.

Before the pandemic the arena had received 10 complaints regarding noise relating to sound testing and the setup or dismantling of event stages.

Officers say they are currently unable to confirm if the OMP has sufficient measures to deal with such issues, including the monitoring of a new smoking area.

In July this year, the Manchester Council adopted licensing conditions in line with Martyn’s Law and the Protect Duty, including training requirements for staff at the venue.

Fraser Swift, Principal Licensing Officer for the authority, stated, “It is unclear from the proposed operating schedule how far the training in place at the Arena would extend. The Chair to the Arena Inquiry has made a number of recommendations in Volume 1 of his report, and we consider it appropriate that these are demonstrably addressed in the proposed operating schedule, particularly those that relate to operational matters relevant to promotion of the licensing objectives at this venue. We welcome the OMP but consider that more information is needed on the purpose, scope, role, and process of how they would operate in practice so as to ensure the promotion of the licensing objectives.”

The application and objections are due to be considered by a hearing convened by the Manchester Council’s licensing subcommittee panel on October 11th.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, a SMG spokesperson said, “In January this year, the SMG contacted the Manchester City Council licensing authority to propose that the existing premises licence be updated. This licence has been in place in one form or another since 1995 and the application we have made was issued by SMG proactively, rather than as a consequence of any review by the licensing authority or similar.”

The spokesperson added, “Both the licencing authority and the Greater Manchester Police are supportive of the application and the approach taken by SMG. As is a normal course of action, the SMG has been invited to provide further information to the Licencing Authority and the Greater Manchester Police. This has already been provided and we continue to work with all parties to confirm the terms of the renewed licence.”

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