Olympic Stadium - it ain't over yet

Olympic StadiumThe Olympic Stadium deal has not collapsed, everyone's just found a much better plan. At least, that's what the various parties involved seem at pains to tell us. Heaven forbid we should think that, with just months to go until the games open, after six years of planning and with £500m of public money spent, the fact that the future of the main stadium is still in doubt indicates that anyone has got anything wrong or needs to be held to account.
Here's what sports minister Hugh Robertson had to say: "Ending the current sale process and looking for a leasehold solution will remove the current uncertainty and allows us to help secure the future use of the stadium with more confidence." And he's confident about what happens next.

"We know there is huge interest in the stadium out there from private operators and football clubs and, crucially, we remove any uncertainty," he says, neglecting to mention the uncertainty has been caused by the process put in place to secure the 'legacy' commitments that were central to London winning the games.

He went on: "This is not a white elephant stadium where no one wants it. We have had two big clubs fighting tooth and nail to get it." It's a neat way of pretending that the legal battle sparked by the decision to throw the rights to use the stadium open to bidders is a positive rather than the negative it has evidently become.

Boris Johnson

London Mayor Boris Johnson is also pushing the line that it's all worked out very well. He said: "We will keep it in public hands," he said. "We will effectively rent it to a football club, almost certainly West Ham, and that will cover the costs. I think it will be a very, very good deal for the taxpayer."

The estimated annual running cost of the stadium is £5m, while the rent an anchor tenant will be charged is likely to be £2m a year. That's not "covered" in anyone's book. And Boris's certainty about West Ham's eventual success may be viewed with interest by other interested parties – anyone for another legal challenge?

Leyton Orient are one of the interested parties who could bid – although they've expressed opposition to keeping the running track that the legacy commitment demands is retained. The club was worried about the effects of another club moving onto its doorstep, so chairman Barry Hearn was quick to claim "total victory".

He has confirmed the club will bid "to be considered for a restructured Olympic Stadium", so won't be impressed by the Mayor of London implying that the tenancy is a done deal with West Ham. And a statement from the Leyton Orient Supporters' Trust (LOFT) also indicates there could be further wrangling ahead.

Leyton Orient fans

LOFT said: "LOFT has long argued that the Olympic Stadium was unsuitable for any football club, and that remains our view. The collapse of the questionable plan to hand the stadium to West Ham is welcome but still leaves Orient's position threatened should West Ham, or Spurs, end up renting the stadium in 2014. This would still, in our view, contravene Premier League and Football League rules.

"It is also clear that many West Ham fans are sceptical about moving, and most Spurs fans certainly are. It's time for the football authorities and football clubs to listen and consult properly with their supporters." Consulting the fans might also present West Ham with some problems, as increasing numbers are doubting whether moving to Stratford would be wise.

Andrew Nixon

Sports lawyer Andrew Nixon of law firm Thomas Eggar also takes the view that there could be further trouble ahead. He had this to say: "It is likely that West Ham will re-enter the tender process, but this time targeting a tenancy agreement rather than a deal to purchase the Stadium. This would mean that it would not require the involvement of Newham Council and would dissolve any argument that West Ham had received 'state funding'.

"The other major concern for the OPLC is the World Athletic Championships bid. That event is due to take place in 2017 and this decision is designed to ensure that the bid for that event is not disrupted; however, with the Stadium effectively reverting to public ownership it follows that public money may need to be used.

"Of course, should West Ham succeed in the re-tender, and become tenants of the Stadium, Leyton Orient may still believe it has redress via the Premier League Rules... which state that a Club is entitled to move grounds provided that "it does not adversely affect clubs that have their registered ground in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location."

Tottenham Hotspur

It was the action brought by Tottenham Hotspur, rejected in favour of West Ham after entering the bidding process, which enveloped the stadium in legal controversy. Today, the club welcomed the decision and said: "We firmly believe that the bid we put forward was, in fact, a realistic sporting solution for the stadium, along with a substantial return to the taxpayer, community programming and athletics provision.'

This seems a rather unnecessary 'I told you so' because the club is unlikely to bid to become a tenant at a multi-use stadium. The north London club's plans to rebuild the current stadium in Tottenham look to be back on track after agreement with the local council over planning issues.

The central problem is the commitment made by Lord Coe to preserve the running track, a commitment that is central to the legacy mission. Retaining the track makes the stadium less attractive to potential buyers, especially as the plan to install retractable seating was scrapped on cost grounds – although Tessa Jowell will be regretting that decision now.

UK athletics

While UK athletics bodies have welcomed the news, the fact is that athletics events do not attract anywhere near the crowds required to fill a stadium of this size. That's why flogging the stadium off to a football club looked so attractive, even if even more money had to be spent modifying it.

So over £500m has been spent on a stadium in a city which already has three 50,000+ stadiums. At the moment, that there is no sustainable plan to use that stadium after the two weeks of the Olympics. More public money will have to be spent if the stadium is not to become a white elephant. And meanwhile school and pubic sporting facilities are being hit by cuts. Is this what they meant by legacy?
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