Olympic stadium row turns uglier

Updated: 
London Olympic Stadium StratfordThe ugly row over what happens to the £480m Olympic Stadium when the games finish turned uglier this weekend after The Sunday Times published allegations that West Ham made payments to an executive on the body that awarded the club the ground. West Ham are suing over the allegations.

The newspaper reported that £20,000 in payments had been made to Dionne Knight, the director of corporate services at the Olympic Park Legacy Company. The payments were made before and after the club was selected as preferred bidder for the stadium in Stratford.

According to the newspaper, the arrangement was put in place by Ian Tompkins, the director of West Ham's Olympic Stadium project. Tompkins and Knight are in a relationship. Both executives were suspended last Friday after The Sunday Times produced evidence of the payments.

West Ham

West Ham said it believed the payments were above board and that Knight had OPLC authorisation to carry out consultancy work. The OPLC said Knight was working for the club without its knowledge. It also said: "This individual had no involvement whatsoever in our stadium process".

The Daily Telegraph also revealed over the weekend that Knight previously worked for Newham Council, West Ham's bid partner which is providing a £40m loan to the club to help convert the stadium after the Olympic Games finish.

The Hammers have responded by launching legal action against The Sunday Times and Tottenham Hotspur. The newspaper's information was gained by private investigators working for Spurs and West Ham say this was obtained illegally. The club "absolutely and categorically" denies the allegations of secret payments.

OPLC

An unnamed "senior source" from Spurs was quoted by The Sunday Times as saying: "Clearly if West Ham had someone on the payroll from the OPLC and it can be proved that she had access to confidential information relating to the bids, there is no way it can't go back and be reopened."

This suggests that the Spurs board still have their eyes on moving into the stadium in Stratford. But there's also speculation that the club's refusal to let the issue go is a strategy to leverage more public assistance for the redevelopment of its current ground in Tottenham.

Spurs are believed to be furious over being given unofficial indications that they should bid for the stadium with a plan that did not retain the running track, only to lose the bid 14 votes to nil largely because they were planning to remove the running track.

Public funding

The club spent a large amount of money preparing the Stratford bid, although it was bitterly opposed by many supporters. It is also smarting over what it sees as the amount of public assistance given to a competitor club.

Last week, Spurs submitted a bid for money from the Regional Growth Fund which was backed by the local council, Haringey, and local MP David Lammy. The RGF, in the club's words, "awards funding for projects that will directly create jobs through private sector enterprise and growth that will enable or unlock future private sector jobs growth, particularly in those areas and communities that are currently dependent on the public sector."

Recently, plans for the redevelopment of the current White Hart Lane stadium have reappeared on the club's website after they had been withdrawn shortly after the Olympic Stadium bid was lost. That's added further fuel to the theory that the Spurs board are playing a long game.

Olympic Stadium

The theory is that the embarrassment of having the showpiece Olympic Stadium caught up in legal wrangles will prompt the government to look more favourably upon Tottenham's bid for funding to help its own development. Key to being able to do this is to tie in the regeneration of the local area, currently one of the most deprived in Britain.

This may be true, or it may be that Spurs is keeping its options open. Anything is possible in this extraordinary saga. But sooner rather than later Spurs need to commit to one project if it is to secure the backing needed to make any stadium expansion go ahead.

Leyton Orient

And behind all this sound and fury, the fact that two private companies are fighting over a taxpayer-funded asset in a process that raises questions about how public money is used seems to have been forgotten, as has the fate of Leyton Orient, the club closest to the Stratford site that faces possible extinction if either party wins.

DISCLOSURE: Wearing another hat, I am a member of a small ginger group of Spurs fans working on proposals to address some of the viability issues with the stadium development in Tottenham. I am not employed or paid by the club.

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