Controversial plans to rebuild Barnet Football Club's stadium have been approved.

Permission to expand facilities at the Underhill ground was unanimously granted by members of Barnet Council's planning and environment committee on Tuesday.

The decision comes just in time for the League Two club, which risked expulsion from the Football League because the current facilities do not fulfil Football Association (FA) requirements.

Work began in earnest last week at the Barnet Lane stadium in anticipation of the decision.

Formal clearance is also needed from the Greater London Authority (GLA) owing to the size of the development on Green Belt land, but this is widely expected to be granted.

Barnet FC chairman Tony Kleanthous said the club now faces a tight deadline to meet the Football League criteria, which requires 2,000 covered seats by May. The current capacity is 5,300, with 1,000 covered seats.

"It is an understatement to say we are delighted," said Mr Kleanthous.

"We plan to start work almost immediately on a £500,000 project to provide a roofed South Stand to replace the old temporary seating, plus part of a covered North Stand, for away supporters, and much- needed facilities for the disabled."

Peter Williamson, secretary of Barnet FC Supporters' Association, said: "It means there is a future at Underhill and we can keep a permanent home rather than ground share with another team.

"We can now move forward with new training facilities and keep the club part of the borough in the short to medium term.

"The new covered stand will be a return to the old west bank of the ground, which was once the sacred home of the fans."

At previous council meetings, residents voiced concerns regarding the height of the roofed North Stand and its proximity to houses in Westcombe Drive.

Amended plans were approved at the latest meeting - despite further protests from residents.

Although the permission includes the development of the North Stand, which would be built on private land, it cannot go ahead yet because residents have refused to sell up.

Linda Perry, 57, of Westcombe Drive, said: "I think most residents will be disappointed that more limitations on the site were not made when the complaints were made to the council.

"We are going to encourage people to write to the GLA with our concerns.

"The plan is to build on land the club does not own, which makes it a nonsense that the council approved the plans."

Mrs Perry said there had not been a proper public consultation, only a letter offering to buy up the affected houses.

"There hasn't been a relationship with the football club. A lot of people would have felt better if they had sat down and worked out a compromise, rather than have this ongoing battle."

Councillor Fiona Bulmer, who represents Underhill ward, said: "I shared the residents' concerns.

"Amendments have been made and I think the changes reflect that they had valid concerns about the site.

"It is now in the best interests of everyone concerned that the development goes ahead smoothly TURN TO PAGE 4 and disturbance around the construction is minimised."

Leader of the Tory-run council, Councillor Mike Freer, said: "The planning committee listened to residents' concerns and carefully considered the advice of planning officers.

"We have worked closely with the club to find an acceptable compromise. Barnet Football Club is a valuable asset for the borough and we wish them every success."