The most important victory the long history of Brighton and Hove Albion was secured today.

New Communities Secretary Hazel Blears sealed her place in Albion folklore by saying YES to the 22,000-seat stadium at Village Way North, in Falmer.

Albion said today they hoped to begin building within 18 months so that the stadium could be ready by the 2010/11 season.

Mrs Blears finally confirmed what fans and the club say they have known for years - that Brighton and Hove needs a modern arena and Falmer is the only viable site.

The news was greeted with euphoria by the club and the legions of long-suffering Seagulls fans around the world. It brings to an end a 10-year search for a new home since the Goldstone Ground was sold to developers by a despised board of directors eventually ousted by current chairman Dick Knight.

Albion chairman Dick Knight said: "What can I say? We all feel fantastic.

"Today is the day Brighton truly becomes a city. It could not have been a true city without this stadium.

"I want to thank everybody for this huge amount of effort that has gone into the campaign.

"At last we have got the decision the club, the city and the fans deserve.

"Today is a triumph for football, community and democracy."

Chief executive Martin Perry said: "This is a turning point in the club's history.

"I'm thrilled that the Government has yet again recognised the huge benefits the stadium will bring to the city.

"The next stage is to finalise the funding, go out to tender and appoint a contractor.

"We hope to start building at the back of end of next year and to be in place for the 2010/11 season."

Mrs Blears approved all four planning applications - for the stadium itself, the coach park and two which related to the widening of Village Way.

A number conditions have been attached to the permission but solicitors were today poring over the details of the document to establish what implications they would have.

Transport links, parking, cycle access and pathways must be in place before the stadium is brought into use.

Building work itself cannot begin until planning permission is obtained for lighting of car parks and transport routes and the constrction of new car parking at Falmer High School.

The stadium cannot be brought into use until planning permission is gained for floodlighting, security fencing and CCTV cameras at the site.

The stadium cannot be used for events involving motor vehicles, firework displays or laser shows.

When the stadium is used for outdoor events floodlighting must be turned off at 11pm.

Mrs Blears also set a limit on noise levels from outdoor concerts taking place at the stadium.

Events can only take place between 9am and 11pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 9am to 10.30pm on Sundays.

The stadium cannot host more than two music concerts a year.

Indoor events can only take place between 8am and midnight from Monday to Saturday and between 8am and 11pm on Sundays.

The link road between Stanmer Park Road and the University of Sussex must be built and in use before the stadium is used.

The maximum number of people allowed at the stadium is 22,500.

Construction work on the stadium can only take place between 7.30am and 6pm, with no work allowed on Sundays or Bank Holidays.

The news marks the end of the an eight-year battle for Falmer since it was first identified as the club's choice for a new ground in in 1999.

Brighton and Hove City Council, leader Brian Oxley said: "It's a great result for the city - we very much welcome this decision. It vindicates the hard work put in by the club and support given by the council over the last ten years.

"This has included identification of a council-owned site, a referendum and support at two planning inquiries.

"However, given the history of the project we need to wait to see if there is any further legal challenge.

"There's now lots of work for the club to do to secure funding and move the project forward. The council will continue to be supportive right up to the time the first ball is kicked - and beyond.

"We also need to be mindful of the concerns of residents especially around traffic, congestion and transport in general."

Supporters now face an anxious six-week wait to see whether the council launches another appeal.

Paul Samrah, chairman of the Falmer For All campaign, said: "We're absolutely delighted. This has been a long time coming but it the correct decision in my view.

"We've had two more years of wrangling and now we just implore our opponents for no more appeals.

"As time has gone on the arguments against the stadium have dissipated. Let's build the stadium and make it something the whole of Sussex can be proud of.

"There are no champagne corks popping just yet. Our celebrations are tempered with the knowledge our opponents have 42 days to appeal.

"It's taken so long that generations of Albion fans have yet to see the team in a permanent home.

"So let's build the thing and make a difference to the whole of Sussex."

Ed Bassford, of the Seagulls Party, said: "I am delighted and I hope this is the end of it and there will not be any grounds for appeal.

"The parties need to work together and make the stadium work.

"We will be celebrating but it will not be rambunctious - it is the wrong time to push this into the face of the opposition.

"This means everything to the club, without the decision I think we would have been stuck with Withdean where we are not welcome as a permanent feature.

"We would have floundered for many, many years, but that will not happen now.

"We have the possibility of going places that for the last ten years were not possible."

Roz South, Seagulls Party, said: "The opposition have fought a long battle but they should now accept that a stadium is going to be built.

"Eight years ago supporters of the Falmer stadium site said that the site wasn't perfect but it wasn't beautiful either and that there were no alternatives. They were telling a simple and now proven truth.

"This month alone a planning inspector has said that the site isn't worthy of National Park or even AONB status, and a Government minister has confirmed the view of another inspector that there was no alternative site.

"In the circumstances, yes was the only decision that could have been made.

"It is just a shame that the opponents have delayed things for so long, costing local taxpayers and the football club - but rarely themselves - huge sums of money."

Last week a group of Labour MPs from Brighton and Hove delivered a letter to Mrs Blears urging her to grant permission for the stadium.

David Lepper, Des Turner and Celia Barlow were joined in Westminster by prospective parliamentary candidates for Brighton Kemptown and Pavilion, Simon Burgess and Nancy Platts.

Popular internet forum North Stand Chat today went into meltdown and The Argus website was deluged as thousands of fans logged on to read the news.

The verdict comes 12 years after The Argus exposed a plot to sell their former home under the Greg Stanley, Bill Archer and David Bellotti regime at the club.

Falmer was identified as the club's preferred site in 1999 and backed by the electorate in a city-wide referendum. The planning application was submitted six years ago and was scrutinised by three Government inspectors.

Two years ago former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott triggered champagne celebrations when he gave the stadium the thumbs-up. But the decision was quashed in the High Court months later after Lewes District Council appealed against the verdict when a mistake in the wording of the approval document was uncovered.

John Burt, of Falmer Parish Council, said the authority's lawyers would be scrutinising the documents to see if there was the possibility of an appeal.

He said: "It is an extremely disappointing decision. We had always felt we had the moral high ground and that our village would be protected by planning laws but this has not been the case."

Melanie Cutress, chairman Falmer Parish Council, said: "This parish council is very proud of the fight it has put up over six years to save Falmer Village from this massive development. Falmer is a tiny village and it has been a real David and Goliath contest.

"There is no doubt that the impact of a football stadium on this village and area will be devastating.

"The sheer size of the stadium will be totally out of scale with any other building in sight. Once the precedent is set to build on this part of the downs, then other things will follow and this whole swathe of countryside will be lost forever.

"For starters, we already know that Brighton Hove Albion's chief executive, Martin Perry, has looked into building a 130 bedroom hotel on the site.

"What football fans easily forget is that this stadium will be a seven day-a-week, all year round operation, it's not just for football matches. There will be big events, small events, hospitality events and conferences, all to raise the money the stadium will need to exist.

"We will have to cope with the extra traffic, noise and light that will be generated. It is going to be a very difficult and destructive future."

Falmer parish councillor Simon Barnes described the decision as "depressing."

He said: "We are very disappointed. We really did think Sheepcote Valley was a much better venue for it.

"I think if you come here in ten years' time the area will be going to be overdeveloped and Falmer will just be another part of Brighton."

And the South Downs Society reacted with incredulity to the decision.

Chairman John Songhurst said: "We are deeply shocked by this decision.

"The stadium will be a monstrous blight on this area of virgin downland. This massive structure will not only visually destroy the downland scenery but will have a major negative environmental impact in terms of vehicle, noise and light pollution.

"This is an example of government cynicism towards the supposedly protected landscapes of our precious areas of outstanding natural beauuty and other legally protected landscapes.

"How can this crass concrete carbuncle on the face of our beautiful downland be justified in the national interest."

Football pundit Jimmy Hill, who lives at Hurstpierpoint, near Burgess Hill, said: "Without any doubt this is excellent news. I'm really looking forward to going down there and watching matches in a comfortable, modern stadium.

"This is going to be a really encouraging time for the players and everyone involved in the club. A new stadium won't necessarily make a dramatic improvement to the team but it will certainly give them a boost. A lot of clubs have gone on to very good things after moving to new grounds.

"It is fantastic for the fans. Albion will now have an unbeaten record in their new stadium.

"There is every reason for hope that it will enable the club to be more successful."

Broadcaster Simon Fanshawe, the Chair of Brighton & Hove Economic Partnership, said: "This is great for Brighton and Hove. It's great for football and its great for the economy. This really shows we are on the move as a city.

"With the King Alfred, the marina, the i360 and now the stadium Brighton and Hove has really moved into the century in a positive way.

"It's great for the football club. Once they have got a stadium they can start to develop the team and develop the club.

"It has taken a long time for the decision to be reached, which was a good thing at first because there needed to be a full public debate. The last protracted period where Lewes District Council have challenged technicalities has been unnecessary.

"I'll make sure I'm down there for the opening match."

Gill Mitchell, leader of Brighton and Hove's Labour party, said: "This is fantastic news for the city and not just for the club and fans but the surrounding area that will benefit from transport infrastructure, investment and jobs.

"Labour has always kept the faith with the stadium dream whereas the Greens have opposed and the Tories are split. The Albion are coming home."

Simon Burgess, former leader of Brighton and Hove City Council and prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour party, said: "It's fantastic.

"I'm not surprised but hugely relieved and pleased.

"It's going to make a huge difference to sport across the city and benefit the whole of Sussex. It's missed having great sports facilities and this will be one that makes a difference to kids in the area.

"I really hope Lewes District Council will now leave this alone. Enough is enough. It's been dragged out so much.

"It's time to let go and let the club get on with it."

The yes verdict is the news fans have long been waiting for, but many will not celebrate truly until the six week time period for any further appeal to be lodged is over.

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