Ennis training stadium to close

Jessica EnnisThe stadium where Olympic hero Jessica Ennis was discovered and trains will be closed and demolished as a cost-cutting measure, councillors have decided.

The £29 million Don Valley Stadium, in Sheffield, is being sacrificed as part of Sheffield City Council's bid to save millions of pounds.
The Labour-run authority says it must find £50 million of savings next year after the Government announced sweeping public spending cuts.

It says the £700,000 it spent subsidising the facility in 2012/13 is unsustainable as the stadium is running at a loss.

City councillors voted yesterday in favour of the move as part of an overall budget plan that was approved after a five-hour meeting.

Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Ennis trains at the stadium.

She was also discovered at the stadium when she went to a summer holidays athletics club when she was 10.

After her triumph in August, some people called for the Don Valley Stadium to be renamed in her honour.

It is also home to the City of Sheffield Athletics Club.

After she received her CBE at Buckingham Palace, Ennis said: "I've some amazing memories. I started my athletics career there. Having that iconic stadium in my home city is incredible. And to lose that would be such a shame for future athletes coming through. So I hope that the right decision's made."

The council said it subsidises every visit by more than £5 and it requires major repair and maintenance work - totalling around £1.6 million.

It has proposed the reopening of the track at the smaller Woodbourn Road Stadium nearby.

The 25,000-seat stadium, which was a temporary home to Rotherham United FC for four seasons and has hosted gigs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and the Spice Girls, was built as the centrepiece of a £147 million construction programme when Sheffield hosted the 1991 World Student Games.

The funding of the games has provided 20 years of controversy in Sheffield that continues today.

Many still criticise the Labour councillors of the time for landing the city with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt that is still being paid off at around £20 million a year and will not be cleared until 2024.

Others have argued the games kick-started a move to make Sheffield one of most important centres for sport in the UK and left the city with world-class facilities, including the Ponds Forge swimming centre.

Mike Corden, chairman of City of Sheffield Athletics Club, was furious at the decision to close the stadium, describing it as the best in the country for athletics.

"The writing was on the wall when they didn't instantly rename it after Jess following the Olympics," he said.

"We asked that question straight away and the politicians averted their eyes and waited for it to go away."

Mr Corden, who has 45 years experience in athletics, said the country should be able to afford £700,000 a year to pay for an athletics facility that would cost £100m to build now.

He was scathing about both local and national politicians for their role in the stadium's demise.

He said locally the political parties had blamed each other for the spiralling cost of funding the World Student Games more than two decades ago.

"It's an appalling mess and if the politicians were bankers people would be baying for blood," he said.

Nationally, they were nowhere to be heard on the matter, having been happy to milk the success of the Olympics last summer, he added.

Lord Coe should have intervened in his capacity as games legacy ambassador, the club chairman said.

"Someone should be on the phone to Seb Coe - he is desperate for the issue to go away. Last year Boris Johnson, Coe, David Cameron and Tessa Jowell were all preening themselves - let them all come and look here at what has been left here. Is this the legacy that Coe wanted?"

Bryan Lodge, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for finance, said: "I believe this is undoubtedly the hardest budget this council has had to set in its history.

"We have aimed as far as possible to protect services for the most vulnerable and the work we do to help people get into jobs and support our economy and our city to move forward."

Mr Lodge said: "We have had to make very difficult decisions and ones that we did not come in to local politics to make, but the hard, cold facts are that we have had to balance a budget and find ways of saving money that will mean less pain for as many people as possible."

Cllr Isobel Bowler, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure, said: "No-one wants to close Don Valley but we can no longer afford to subsidise it by £700,000 a year. Over the next 10 years the council will save over £6m - a huge amount of money.

"We will still provide a home for athletics at Woodbourn, less than a mile away and will cost less than £70,000 a year to run.

"This approach has been endorsed by the sports governing body and the city's two main athletics clubs are already engaged in constructive discussions with the council about the transfer.

"Woodbourn will technically offer the same quality of track and field facilities and in fact will provide uninterrupted access for our local clubs."

The council pointed out that there was little prospect that the stadium, if it were kept open, would ever be used for major UK athletics events again.

The Olympics Stadium in London and the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham are now the preferred venue for grand prix and other international events.

The council said the stadium would remain open until September and alternative uses for the existing structure or the site would be investigated in the next few months.
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