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10.25 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on securing this Adjournment debate. I want to make two brief comments.

First, I share my hon. Friend's view about the importance of the speedy redevelopment of Wembley as the national stadium. Wembley has an enormous impact on the economy of the surrounding area and supports many service jobs in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). Harrow town centre is extremely close to Wembley stadium--which many of my constituents enjoy and where many of them work--and depends in part on the resources brought to the area by those visiting the stadium. I seek the same assurances as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that the development of Wembley will be completed speedily and effectively.

Secondly, a modernised national stadium will clearly be crucial to the success not only of our 2006 world cup bid, but of our London Olympic bid for 2012. While Wembley is the centrepiece of our national game--it is the home of football--I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can offer reassurance that its redevelopment will ensure that it is modernised and capable of being the centrepiece also for an Olympic bid.

10.27 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) on securing this debate, and I welcome the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). I share their aspirations and, perhaps, some of their concerns.

I simply do not have the answers to some of my hon. Friends' questions, and I shall not flannel my way around them. I shall examine them and give considered responses, because they are serious questions and merit good and proper answers. The construction of a national stadium is crucial. This might be the last comment that I ever make at the Dispatch Box, but there are times when one has to admire the way that the French secured their national stadium. They went straight out and did it, as they did with their fast rail link for the channel tunnel. They do not muck about and go around with begging bowls asking people whether they would throw in a few coins. I rather like that approach.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): Much as I admire the French, there is a 10-year debt on the stadium in Paris, which we would not want to carry.

Mr. Banks: There is always a down side, which is why we shall not approach matters as the French have done. However, there are times when I admire the French approach.

The construction of Wembley is crucial to all the matters that have been raised. Wembley was selected as the preferred bid for the national stadium following a two-stage selection process. At stage one, three bids were

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rejected. The Sheffield bid proposed two stadiums on one site and did not comply, while Birmingham's bid involved a site in the green belt which did not have planning consent. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South referred to the Bradford bid. These are old issues, but it is worth putting the facts on the record. I know that the English Sports Council was impressed with Bradford's proposals. The concept had strong local support and there was genuine enthusiasm for the new ideas. However, the Bradford bid was eventually rejected on the ground of transportation. It would have required substantial investment to provide the necessary public transport and road access.

At stage two, Wembley was preferred to the competing bid from Manchester. It had significant access advantages, given the existing transport infrastructure. However, both sites were successful in attracting funding. Investment was promised to Wembley as the site for the new national stadium and to Manchester for the 2002 Commonwealth games.

It would be unreasonable to expect that there would not be difficulties with Wembley. We knew that there would be difficulties, and there are difficulties, in trying to plan a project of this size. There are difficult negotiations still to overcome. However, the English Sports Council's objectives remain clear--to build a world-class stadium within an appropriate setting; to provide 80,000 seats with appropriate public access; to secure benefits for the development of sport from the project; to provide a stadium for the three sports of football, rugby league and athletics; to ensure that the stadium can be developed with a maximum grant from the lottery of £120 million; to ensure that the project is completed by 2002; and, finally, to ensure that the project meets the English Sports Council lottery sports fund eligibility criteria, including viability and quality.

To ensure the last of those objectives, the English Sports Council is, naturally, keeping a close watch on the costs of the project. I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that, for a variety of commercial confidentiality reasons, I am unable to provide a detailed breakdown of the total costs, now estimated at about £320 million. However, as it currently stands, the rough breakdown is £103 million for the purchase of the site and £217 million for demolition, construction, planning and design. Some £120 million will come from the lottery, with the rest being made up of debt financing via the FA. That is one of the problems; it is a national stadium, but the FA--I am not here as an apologist for it--is being required to find £200 million. Consequently, it will not be just Ken Bates who will give me grievous bodily harm of the ear; it will be the FA generally. As it will have to borrow that £200 million against the income that the trust will receive through England games, it will want a large say in what happens. We can hardly blame it for demanding that.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield): Perhaps my hon. Friend, like me, is worried about the nominations from the FA, which are very unrepresentative of football. All the nominations bar one come from the premier league teams. The one that did not was made only because it involved the chairman of the football league, who happened to represent a town that very nearly got into the premier

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league. If it is to be a truly national stadium, it is worrying that only a minority section of football will command its management.

Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I know that when Hansard is read by the FA, the trust and the others involved, those matters will be considered. I am not trying to tell my hon. Friend that I have detailed control over these events on a day-to-day basis. As I have said in the House, that is what the arm's-length principle is all about; we let other people get on with it. However, my hon. Friend has raised a good point, which the FA must take seriously.

I want to pick up on some other points. Devco must be representative of all the interests that will be involved in the redevelopment of Wembley. As I said, this is a national stadium, so we must consider Wembley in its wider context. It is not only about building a new national stadium, but about infrastructure investment. It is about the regeneration of the entire area. I feel ashamed going to Wembley and saying, "This is our national stadium at the moment." It might be a venerable institution, but it is long past its sell-by date. That is why we want to proceed with the demolition of the old Wembley after the cup final next year, and with the construction of the new Wembley by 2002. Some of those issues have yet to be resolved, because we need to consider the regeneration of the entire area.

Obviously, those matters are well beyond the remit of a humble Sports Minister standing at the Dispatch Box. I imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer--probably at this moment--being given a briefing on what I am saying about the likely cost implications for the Exchequer. Obviously, the Deputy Prime Minister will be involved because of the involvement of English Partnerships and the single regeneration budget, and the necessary development of the transport infrastructure. All those Departments and all those Ministers are involved. However, if--as I keep saying--it is to be a national stadium, we must get ourselves together to ensure that it works. We do not want a half-hearted effort that does not stand the test of time and does not give us the things that we want--the centrepiece of our bid for 2006 and, perhaps, the centrepiece for a future Olympic bid, if the British Olympic Association is prepared to submit it.

Does one regard the FA, putting in that £200 million as a developer for the purposes of section 106, as one would any other developer that exists to make a profit? I may be wrong, but I make a distinction between the FA as the major putter-up of the funds and borrowing £200 million, and someone who wants to develop for private company purposes and make a profit from that development. I believe that such developers must be expected to put a considerable amount back into the community for the profits that they take out of it. I do not quite see the FA in the same role as a large property developer in London.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): As the Minister is aware, in a former life I was involved in the establishment of the English National Stadium Trust. The question that is posed to him directly is: who protects the public interest in all this? In reality, this is the largest development that the Sports Council has ever been involved in, and, to a certain extent, I consider it not out of its depth, but certainly inadequate in the negotiations

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with a body such as the FA, because when one negotiates with the FA, one lies down with a tiger. The onus is on the Minister to protect the public interest. Although I accept his relatively hands-off approach, a more day-to-day overview is required to ensure that the public interest and the London interest are protected, especially with regard to the environment.


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