An arena at the Gateway site would rival similar facilities at Wembley and the former Millennium Dome, according to an economist.

A public inquiry into the future of the prime development site was this week told plans for an entertainment venue next to East Croydon station would hold its own against the O2 arena in Greenwich and the venue close to the national football stadium in north London.

Bridget Rosewell, chairman of Volterra Consulting - the company responsible for the economic analysis of Arrowcroft's scheme, said: "The O2 arena has been a runaway success since it opened and that is what we hope for Croydon.

"Part of the O2's success has been down to the fact that it is an attractive site with an array of activities on offer which is something Wembley lacks.

"Croydon's arena will offer similar activities and I think that it will be able to attract a similar range as the O2 and it will be extremely beneficial for the town centre.

"If there were to be a loser in London then it would most likely be Wembley because it will have less facilities than Croydon. It is quite disappointing that Wembley was rebuilt without anything very different to what the old venue had."

The eight-week inquiry into the Gateway scheme began last week after a long legal battle between Stanhope Schroders and Arrowcroft.

Protestors against the arena plan this week launched a petition on the Downing Street website.

Stanhope owns the land and has planning permission but Croydon Council backs Arrowcroft's plans and has ordered a compulsory purchase order on the site.

Ms Rosewell also told the inquiry the arena is likely to make a valuable and profitable addition to Croydon town centre.

"This whole development is about what effect the arena will have on the town centre and I believe as a whole Croydon will be made a better place.

"We need to ensure that not only the arena site is a success but that the town centre is revived as a result. Croydon is a unique part of London and we need to recognise that uniqueness. It is an important office centre and is not matched by any other place apart from the central core of London," she told inspectors.

She said people attending events at the arena would be more likely to explore Croydon and the arena would ensure they returned.

She added: "Croydon is not that low quality downtown place that people think it is and we need to change that opinion."

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