English Premier League football club Manchester United has today (Wednesday) confirmed it has received approval for a barrier seating trial to take place at Old Trafford, adding it is hoping to have the work completed in time for when fans return to the stadium.

United submitted a proposal to Trafford Council earlier in the year, following changes to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) and a subsequent feasibility study which was carried out by the club. Approval for this was confirmed to fan representatives at last week’s Fans’ Forum and follows longstanding discussions held with Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and the Fans’ Forum in recent years.

The approval from Trafford Council is an agreement in principle for the club to install around 1,500 barrier seats in the North East Quadrant, in sections N2401 and N2402. United said it will now discuss installation options with potential suppliers, working within current UK government recommendations relating to construction site operating procedures and social distancing during COVID-19. Discussions will also take place with the SGSA to ratify the required amendments to the club’s stadium licence.

Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s group managing director, said: “It should be stated up front that our overwhelming priority is to keep our people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when it is safe, and our preparations for that must continue in the background.

“This announcement is the latest step in what has been a long journey with our fans. We have listened to their feedback, in particular the representations made by MUST, and worked with Trafford Council to develop and approve this proposal.

“Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing. It also allows us to future-proof the stadium in the event of any changes to the current all-seater stadium policy. If the trial is successful, we may consider further implementation of barrier seating in other parts of the stadium.

“We will now move on to develop the installation, compliance and licensing plan for the trial with a view to having the new seats installed for when we can welcome our supporters back to Old Trafford.”

In February, it was disclosed that United had made a formal request to introduce rail seating at Old Trafford. United revealed last September that it was exploring the possibility of introducing rail seating at the stadium.

The prospect of safe standing areas returning to stadia across English football took another step forward earlier in February after the SGSA said initial research had indicated that the installation of such solutions has had a “positive impact” on spectator safety.

Standing has been outlawed in the top two leagues of English football since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. However, there has been increasing efforts to return safe standing, which has received provisional support from the Football Association (FA), Premier League and English Football League (EFL), as well as from fan groups.

Wolverhampton Wanderers this season became the first Premier League club to install seats incorporating barriers in an existing stadium. All seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand at Molineux have been replaced by a new barrier seating solution. Furthermore, all seats in the stadium’s Stan Cullis quadrant have been fitted with an independent barrier. Both options fully comply with the SGSA’s most recent guidance.

The Sir Jack Hayward Stand, otherwise known as the South Bank, houses the club’s most vocal fans, the majority of whom choose to stand, rather than sit, at games. Tottenham Hotspur also fitted rail seating at its recently-opened new stadium.

United today said the barrier seating trial is part of our broader plans to develop the stadium in ways which enhance the matchday experience for supporters. Separately, in February, United announced the extension of the ‘atmosphere section’ in the Stretford End in the south-west corner as part of the season ticket launch for 2020-21.

Arnold added: “Both of these initiatives underline our commitment to the continued improvement of Old Trafford, with a focus on further enhancing the matchday experience, atmosphere and safety for all supporters.”