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Level Playing Field has expressed "disappointment" with Manchester United after the football club announced a three-year phased approach to accommodate increased disabled seating at Old Trafford - missing a Premier League pledge of meeting minimum accessibility standards by August 2017.

The English club has confirmed that while Old Trafford will have the infrastructure in place to achieve the minimum standards required by the deadline, it will be using a phased approach to minimise disruption caused by relocating existing season ticket holders.

It is anticipated that all planned wheelchair user spaces will be in full use by the 2020/21 season.

 Tony Taylor, Level Playing Field chair, said: “Manchester United – the world’s richest football club - should rightfully be in the vanguard of change and best practice when it comes to accessibility. We congratulate the club for the improvements that are being made and we understand, of course, that for those long-term season ticket holders at Old Trafford who face relocation it will be a difficult process.

 “However, we believe Manchester United should be praising its fans for supporting the provision of spaces for wheelchair users. Surely, consideration must be given for the disabled fans who have never seen their team play at Old Trafford because of a lack of availability of tickets for wheelchair users. It must also be stressed that the planned increase in wheelchair user spaces are spaces that have been owed to disabled fans for over 20 years.”

Manchester United confirmed its plans on Tuesday (24 January) after consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Manchester United Disabled Supporters’ Association (MUDSA).

The club said it examined "dozens of options" to increase the capacity for disabled supporters within the stadium, in line with the Accessible Stadia Guide.

The work will accommodate more than 300 new positions for disabled supporters, including the installation of new wheelchair user platforms, the widening of vomitories, and new amenity seats for other disabled supporters. Once complete, wheelchair user positions will increase from 120 to 277, and the number of amenity seats will rise from 126 to 278.

All structural work will be completed ahead of the 2017/18 campaign, allowing all the new accessible facilities to be used for friendlies and some cup games.

However, as changes will displace some 2,600 season ticket holders, the club has developed a three-year phased programme of relocating fans, to allow time to find suitable alternative seats, with around 800 fans being relocated for the 2017/18 season.

Therefore, from next season, only 100 of the 300 new positions created will be used for Premier League matches and some cup games.

Richard Arnold, Manchester United's group managing director, said: “We have worked openly and continuously for over a year with the EHRC, MUDSA, architects and a significant number of stakeholders, including Level Playing Field, supporters’ groups and the club’s Fans’ Forum, to make sure that these improvements take into consideration all affected fans. It is also the fastest way to implement the changes and minimises the number of season ticket holders that will have to be moved.

“We have a unique situation at Old Trafford in that we have some 55,000 season ticket holders and enjoy sell-out crowds for every game, and the number of seats that become available each summer is very small. This makes moving large numbers of fans to similar seats within the stadium impossible in a short space of time.”

Chas Banks, secretary of the Manchester United Disabled Supporters' Association (MUDSA), said: “This is a huge task and it can't be completed overnight. However, it will be completed faster than most believed possible. More importantly, this expansion is the beginning of a process, not the end. Manchester United is constantly looking to improve in every area and I’m confident they will apply that same ambition towards their disabled fans.”

As reported last week, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Accessibility of Sport Stadia report recommended that the EHRC “start legal proceeding” against Premier League clubs that don’t adhere to the Accessible Stadia Guide.

In 2015, the Premier League made a commitment that all 20 of its clubs would be compliant with the guide by the start of the 2017/18 season. However, its believed that at least eight clubs are not expected to complete agreed improvements by the deadline.

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Level Playing Field has expressed "disappointment" with Manchester United after the football club announced a three-year phased approach to accommodate increased disabled seating at Old Trafford - missing a Premier League pledge of meeting minimum accessibility standards by August 2017.
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Premier League clubs have to meet requirements for disability spaces set out in the Accessible Stadia Guide
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