Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guardian news: Future of Olympic Stadium must be settled by end of the year

Wrangles over who gets to use the Olympic Stadium after the London 2012 Games must finish by the end of this year, the Olympic legacy chief Baroness Ford said today.

Considering West Ham United's new and high-profile interest in moving in to the east London stadium after the Games amid other suggested would-be tenants, a public consultation process will be used to help make the decision, she told MPs.

Baroness Ford, chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), which is in charge of planning, developing and managing the Olympic Park, said: "It seems the time is absolutely right now to go into a public process to get a set of settled uses for the stadium.

"This is a £540 million public asset so it goes without saying that we are not just going to have some conversation off stage left and someone is going to take over the stadium.

"It has to be a publicly managed process to demonstrate value for money and that we are keeping the bid commitments that were there."

It will start with three months of market testing, including publication of an OPLC prospectus in the next few weeks inviting people to make suggestions on what they can do in legacy. A formal procurement process will then take place.

Baroness Ford told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee: "We are really hoping we will get to an agreed position by the end of the year so we can say 'here are the uses for the stadium' and we can put that to one side and get on with other things.

"I am quite confident that we can get to a good decision on the stadium but we must do it this year because it can not be left to just drag on."

Rumours have been rife that rugby and Twenty20 cricket could also be interested in using the stadium but Baroness Ford insisted that the bid pledge of having a grand prix athletics track after the Games "have to be met".

She said: "We know that the amount of times that athletics will be used in the stadium will not be a huge amount of times, maybe a couple of dozen times a year, but for me premier athletics must be part of the mix because that was part of the bid commitment."

West Ham's new co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan took over the cash-strapped club this year and immediately confirmed their interest in relocating to the 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London, as they try to improve the club finances.

The stadium is to be shrunk into a 25,000-seater venue after the Games complete with an athletics track. At the moment, there seems no reason why football and athletics could not exist together in the stadium, Baroness Ford pointed out.

She said: "Technically the pitch within the track is absolutely Fifa-compliant, from the point of view of size and sight lines, and evidently the stadium is IAAF-compliant.

"These things could technically co-exist, it is whether people would want to co-exist.

"Ed Warner [the UK Athletics chief executive] I know is quite happy to share with football and it is now for football to tell us, if they want to come in to the stadium, how they would want to keep their part of the bargain in terms of the bid."

Baroness Ford said West Ham are not "the only show in town" in terms of use of the stadium as the OPLC is in "lots of discussions with many other people".

She noted: "We need to get this settled once and for all this year. "The current planning status quo is for the stadium to be taken down and rebuilt into a 25,000- seater, the new Crystal Palace, and if that is what we decide to do, fine. We should not apologise for that. We have Twickenham, we have Wembley, and we would have a new athletics stadium – that is what is currently envisaged.

"If alongside that or complementary to that other things can happen in the stadium that make it more viable, more animated, give loads of access, that involve the community – that would be absolutely fantastic."

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