Italy’s new stadium law came into force on 1 January 2014 (see Guido Inzaghi and Maria Elena Alotto,“Ugly, dirty and bad—a law for the revival of Italian stadiums” Real Estate Gazette (Issue 12, Summer 2013), page 22 for a discussion of the bill introducing the law). For some, this long-awaited measure did not appear to live up to expectations, but closer inspection of the legislation reveals that this is not the case. Despite some limitations, the new framework for the revival of sports facilities set out in Article 1, paragraphs 303–306 of the budget law (No. 147/2013) directly addresses the need to promote both the construction of new stadiums, and the upgrading of existing facilities.

The procedure for the construction or redevelopment of sports facilities, which must be completed within 120 days (180 in the case of building works which require approval by the region—generally concerning zoning variations) from the commencement of works, is the following:

  1. the interested party submits a feasibility study accompanied by a financial plan for the project, and a principal user agreement with one or more associations or clubs, to the municipality;
  2. if the project is approved at this first stage, the municipality declares it to be of public interest within 90 days;
  3. the final proposal is then submitted to the region or the municipality which will decide whether the project should go ahead, possibly making its approval conditional on any changes deemed necessary.

It is important to highlight that by law:

  1. The final decision replaces any construction permits required and determines that the project is in the public interest, urgent and to be completed without delay.
  2. Where any of the legal requirements are not complied with, the President of the Council of Ministers gives the interested party 30 days to take the necessary measures to rectify matters, and, where it fails to do so, the region (or the President of the Council for larger facilities, namely those capable of holding more than 4,000 spectators indoors and 20,000 outdoors) takes the necessary measures within 60 days.
  3. In the case of projects to be undertaken on areas of public property or on existing public facilities, details of the approved project must be made available to the public.

Some parties were opposed to the stadium law for environmental reasons, and the legislation contains provisions which should placate the environmentalist lobby.

First of all, the law makes it clear that the feasibility study must cover only those works that are strictly necessary to ensure the structure is fit for purpose, and to achieve the overall financial success of the initiative whilst taking account of its impact on the landscape in social and economic terms. It should be noted that the construction of new residential complexes is expressly ruled out.

Thus the law goes some way to allaying the fears of those who suspect that the renewal of sports facilities is a cover to facilitate profitable changes of use in urban areas—a mere stratagem to turn green areas into building plots or to allow the construction of new houses of high value given their location in the central areas of cities, where Italian stadiums are most often situated.

It could be that the level of protection is justified, judging by past experience of Italian town planning. Certainly, the same law applied in the UK would have precluded the construction of the Emirates Stadium in London, for example. Arsenal Football Club’s new temple was built on an area previously owned by the local council (and designated for waste treatment facilities), using the proceeds from the sale of luxury apartments built on the site of the terraces of the old Highbury stadium.

Second, the law discourages the construction of new stadiums, stating that “where possible, [works] should be carried out primarily through the refurbishment of existing structures or should be located in already built up areas”.

This restriction on the building of new facilities seems fully justified, both because it is right to improve the country’s existing heritage (including sports grounds) before impacting new spaces, and because the law does not exclude the construction of new facilities (which are still permitted on brownfield sites) on undeveloped areas provided that the choice of area is motivated by the right reasons.