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SMG called on to revise AO Arena licence application

AO Arena operator SMG has said it is “continuing to work with all parties” to confirm the terms of a renewed licence for the Manchester venue after police and council officials raised concerns surrounding counter-terrorism training for staff, supply of first aid and access to CCTV.

The application by SMG concerns AO Arena’s premises licence and changes to its operations schedule, setting out how the facility will seek to prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, as well as secure the safety of the public.

Notably, it would mark the first changes to the existing licence that was granted in 2005, and since the 2017 terrorist attack at the arena which killed 22 people. In June, the ongoing independent public inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing criticised SMG and security provider Showsec for the measures put in place before the attack.

The attack took place on May 22, 2017 following an Ariana Grande concert at the venue, which is now known as the AO Arena under a naming rights agreement. The first volume of the inquiry focused on the security measures in place at the arena and was released on June 17.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said that there were missed opportunities to prevent the “devastating impact” of the attack, which was carried out by suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Saunders said the “loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less” if Abedi had been identified as a threat by those “responsible for the security of the arena”.

At the time of the attack, the arena was operated by SMG, which has since merged with AEG Facilities to form ASM Global. SMG contracted Showsec, which specialises in crowd control, to provide crowd management and event security for the Ariana Grande concert.

While Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are in principle said to support SMG’s efforts to change AO Arena’s licence, they are opposed to the application in its current guise.

According to the Manchester Evening News, they believe 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.

Illegal street traders selling counterfeit merchandise outside the venue are also said to pose ‘not only a dispersal issue but should also be considered as a means for implementing a hostile attack’.

The application puts forward a new operational management plan (OMP) that would be ‘reviewed and revised’ for specific events at the arena. This would contain a counterterrorism and security plan in-line with the proposed Protect Duty, a new law which would impose a legal obligation on organisations to consider the safety and security of staff and the public using their venues.

The legislation falls in-line with ‘Martyn’s Law’, a campaign for stricter security measures named after Martyn Hett, one of the victims of the 2017 attack.

In his written objection, PC Alan Isherwood of GMP said: “GMP 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.

“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.

“GMP 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 application and objections are due to be considered by a hearing convened by the Council’s licensing subcommittee panel on October 11. Speaking ahead of the meeting, a SMG spokesperson said: “In January this year, 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.

“Both the licencing authority and GMP are supportive of the application and the approach taken by SMG. As is a normal course of action, SMG has been invited to provide further information to the Licencing Authority and Greater Manchester Police.

“This has already been provided and we continue to work with all parties to confirm the terms of the renewed licence.”

Image: Ivanmuyalde12/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size