Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Sport England


  10.  The design was launched publicly at Wembley Stadium on 29 July 1999. The launch represented the culmination of an extended period of intense discussions and negotiations between and among the organisations involved. The launch was supported by the Government, the Football Association, UK Athletics, and the British Olympic Association. There appeared to be extensive support sufficient to be confident to press ahead with final detailed design development, submission of a planning application, and with plans to secure committed commercial funding.


  11.  A fundamental project objective was to develop a stadium for three sports without unacceptable compromise in terms of viewing distances, sightlines and seating configurations. The original design brief, and obligations related to athletics and the Olympic Games are contained within the Lottery Funding Agreement (see appendix)[3], including:

  11.1  The stadium must have the capability to meet International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) requirements (the IAAF are the accrediting body for athletics facilities for both the World Athletics Championships and the Olympic Games);

  11.2  The stadium must have a minimum seating capacity of 80,000 seats for football and rugby league, and 65,000 seats for athletics—WNSL have exceeded this specification;

  11.3  The stadium must be made available for athletics events on a cost only basis;

  11.4  All rights to ticketing, television, sponsorship, advertising, merchandising, catering, hospitality and all other services belong to the event owner, which is, by way of example, for the World Athletics Championships, the athletics authorities; and

  11.5  The stadium must be made available for the World Athletic Championships and the Olympic Games on the terms upon which such events are offered. This means that at the time an Olympic Games is awarded by the IOC, the host city will be required to enter into a contract with the IOC for the staging of the event. The contract will set out the terms upon which the IOC have awarded the event (principally the commercial terms related to, for example, television or sponsorship rights). The contract will also bind the host city into delivering the suite of facilities required for the Games, including the stadium. This will be based on the bid from the host city, and negotiations which follow the IOC's assessment of the bid. The IOC have indicated that consideration of the seating capacity for the stadium will take account of the need for long term sustainable use of the building.

  12.  The Select Committee noted, in its report of 13 May 1999, that separate national stadia for football and athletics would not be viable, and that a compromise solution had been developed. The report stated:

    "There is a consensus that no more than three major athletics events requiring a large capacity stadium . . . can be attracted to this country in the next 20 years. A permanent athletics stadium with the capacity required for such events would not therefore be economically sustainable" (para 132).


  13.  By July 1999, the following framework was in place, representing a significant and planned stage in the process to develop the project:

  13.1  The project structure had been developed and agreed among all the parties, reflecting the balance of use of the stadium and the commitments or aspirations of the various organisations involved;

  13.2  The site had been secured by Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL), following the acquisition from Wembley plc completed on 15 March 1999;

  13.3  The Lottery Funding Agreement (parties—Sport England, FA and WNSL) relating to the£120 million Lottery grant from Sport England had been negotiated and signed on 12 January 1999;

  13.4  The planning brief had been established by the London Borough of Brent;

  13.5  The Government had established the Wembley Task Force, under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Mobbs, (also formally launched on 29 July) to address issues related to planning, infrastructure requirements and regeneration potential;

  13.6  A full assessment of financial viability had been undertaken to ensure that the proposals related to commercial funding and financial need were robust; and

  13.7  The key principles related to the design of the stadium were agreed by all organisations involved.


  14.  From the outset, the design brief, project structure, and business plan were developed to reflect the event demand from the three sports involved. The projected event profile was and is as follows:

  14.1  Association Football—a 20 year commitment for their flagship events, with a programme of 19 events annually identified in the business plan;

  14.2  Rugby League—1 event annually, plus additional test matches on an occasional basis;

  14.3  Athletics—no committed events, but potential to accommodate the IAAF World Championships in athletics;

  14.4  The Olympic Games—no committed event but able to accommodate the track and field events, should a bid be made and be successful in the future, and Wembley will be the relevant location; and

  14.5  Concerts—6 events annually.


  15.  It was accepted by WNSL that the stadium design must comply with a schedule of technical requirements laid down by Sport England in the Lottery Funding Agreement. They include obligations related to stadium capacity, design quality, playing surfaces, facilities for participants, spectators, and the media. They also require WNSL to comply with the requirements of the three sports as determined respectively by the IAAF, FIFA, UEFA and RFL. However, there are two key issues which have been the focus of debate in recent months—the athletics deck and the Olympic capacity.

  16.  The Athletics Deck: it has been understood by all organisations involved from the outset that there would need to be compromises between the needs of athletics, football and rugby—as the Committee recognised in its May 1999 Report—given the different sizes and shapes of the playing areas. However, all organisations involved consistently supported the principle of developing one stadium for the three sports, on the basis that a solution acceptable to all could be found. A key principle was to ensure that spectators in both football/rugby, and athletics modes, were as close to the action as possible. Another key determinant was the balance of use proposed for the stadium. This led to the development of the deck approach to accommodate athletics, for a number of reasons:

  16.1  The event profile did not require the stadium to host athletics on an annual basis. Indeed, only two events were projected by UK Athletics, and they were dependent on successful bids being submitted. Thus there was no need to ensure particularly rapid turnaround times from football to athletics—the deck could be installed without significant disruption to the stadium's annual event profile, as WNSL has made clear. It has been confirmed by the athletics authorities that they would not use the stadium for any other purposes in that major events such as World Cup, European Championships and European Cup are more suited to other locations or a smaller stadium.

  16.2  The design secured excellent views for football and rugby, with spectators close to the action. By way of comparision, the Stade de France approach, with retractable seating would mean that spectators in the second and third tiers of the stadium, would be 12-14 metres further away at the sides, and 25-30 metres further away at the ends. This compromise was not considered acceptable given the balance of use of the stadium, and the resulting numbers of seats pushed outside the accepted 190 metres distance from the furthest point of the action.

  16.3  It secured excellent views for athletics, again with spectators close to the action. All seats would have a clear view of the track, the minimum sightlines being within the recommendations established by the Football Stadia Advisory Design Council for large stadia. By way of comparison, the Stade de France has significant numbers of seats with obstructed views when in athletics mode. It is stressed that the design of the stadium was specifically produced with athletics in mind: the athletics design was not an afterthought.

  16.4  The cost of the deck approach compared favourably with other options. The Stade de France option is reported to have an initial additional cost of £40 million for the retractable seating system. The Atlanta Olympic Stadium was converted for Baseball after the Olympic Games at a cost of £27 million, with no retained athletics capability. Stadium Australia, built for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games will cost £26 million to convert for Australia Rules Football, Soccer and Rugby after the Games, again with no retained athletic capability. The deck approach at Wembley is projected to cost up to £15 million.

  16.5  The conversion time from football to athletics was projected to be 4-6 months, and would be undertaken in the period September to March, which WNSL agree would cause minimal disruption to the stadium event profile. The Atlanta Olympic Stadium took eight months to convert from athletics to baseball after the 1996 Olympic Games.

  16.6  The deck approach provided substantial flexibility for the organisers of athletic events. The space beneath the deck could be used for additional accommodation, additional warm-up facilities, and for marshalling the participants in opening and closing ceremonies. The ongoing work on the design of the stadium for athletics had identified the extent of space required beneath the platform, and more definitive plans were being considered to reduce both cost and turnaround times.

  16.7  Football to UEFA and FIFA standard can be played on the deck within the athletics track during this mode of design.

  17.  Olympic Capacity—the Lottery Funding Agreement does not identify a capacity for the Olympic Games. It is understood that this would be subject to negotiation at the time the event was awarded. The minimum seating capacity for athletics of 65,000 is required by the Lottery Funding Agreement, with a further obligation on WNSL to accept the Olympic Games. Various capacities have been indicated—65,000 was the seating capacity of the Barcelona Olympic Stadium in 1992; 65,000 is and was considered feasible by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in correspondence with WNSL's design team in July 1998; 75-80,000 seats required by the British Olympic Association (BOA) in successive correspondence since January 1998; and IOC confirmation that they have no specific requirements in December 1999, and that they would take into account the viability and use of the stadium after the event when assessing bids. The stadium design proposed by WNSL can accommodate athletics capacities in the range 67,290-80,000, thus providing the flexibility to accommodate the stated needs of the Olympic bodies. The cost to the event of the deck plus additional seats to achieve 80,000 capacity is projected to be £23 million, a small percentage of the reported £2.5-3 billion cost of staging the Olympic Games in London.

  18.  The intention since the BOA has declared an intention to consider the feasibility of a future bid, has been to ensure that the stadium has the capability to host the Olympic Games at a future date if required, whilst preserving the flexibility for the BOA to consider alternatives should they prove better options at the time of the bid. It is clearly not appropriate to fix the location of the Olympic Stadium before a detailed feasibility study into the options for the Olympics in London is undertaken (including venues for all sports, the village, transport links and infrastructure). In the light of this, and the acknowledged uncertainty surrounding the bid, it would not have been appropriate to commit additional funds to the stadium to increase its capacity at the outset on a speculative basis (there has been no decision to bid, no detailed feasibility study to assess practicality and cost, and no certainty of success).

  19.  More information is available relating to the stadium design approach, including the strategic brief for the project, information prepared by WNSL in support of the planning application, the WNSL response to the Ellerbe Becket report, and the drawings prepared by WNSL as part of the proposed bid for the World Athletics Championships in 2005.


  20.  All organisations involved agreed this approach prior to 29 July, and supported it publicly at the launch, including:

  20.1  WNSL Board—approved the design on 5 July 1999;

  20.2  The Secretary of State—received presentations on 15 and 21 July 1999 and publicly welcomed the design on 29 July 1999;

  20.3  The BOA—following meetings in May and July 1999, they accepted the approach, including the deck, and the concept of adding seats at a later date should they be required for the Games. They welcomed the design by stating on 29 July that whilst they would have preferred a stadium with larger capacity from the outset, "We understand . . . the economics of this additional cost against a scenario where we are yet to even announce a bid, let alone secure a future Olympic Games for London". They concluded that "We are . . . extremely comfortable that today's announcement puts in place another piece of a highly complex jigsaw puzzle which moves us towards announcing a bid to bring the greatest prize in world sport back to our capital city" (BOA Press Release 29 July 1999); and

  20.4  UK Athletics had been working with the design team during the development of the brief and the design and were enthusiastic about the design.

  21.  The design approach was widely understood and accepted by all relevant organisations on the grounds of sports demand, economic sustainability and in terms of achieving acceptable compromises between athletics, football and rugby. The approach has not changed since the Select Committee reported in May 1999, and its acceptance by all organisations involved in July 1999.


  22.  By the end of July 1999, everything was set to proceed with detailed development, in essence, to translate agreed principles into a detailed design. The Lottery Funding Agreement includes a series of development conditions or milestones by which WNSL are required to achieve agreed targets (failure to achieve the milestones by WNSL represents a breach under the agreement, and could therefore result in the repayment of the grant). They include:

  22.1  By 15 November 1999 (Section Two milestone): a series of milestones relating to progress on planning, funding, design and property matters;

  22.2  By 31 March 2000 (Section Three milestone): to secure planning consent, a binding funding agreement, and design to RIBA stages E, F and G;

  22.3  Construction start—one year following satisfaction of the section three milestone; and

  22.4  Completion—a further three years after construction start.


  23.  Detailed development has now progressed from the concept/principle stage (July 1999) to the planning application stage (November/December 1999). It includes:

  23.1  Athletics Deck—the layout of the stadium in athletics mode has been agreed and drawings prepared by WNSL for the 2005 World Championship bid. The overall projected cost of holding World Athletics at Wembley would be up to £15 million;

  23.2  Olympic Options—further work had been undertaken to assess the optimum approach (in design and cost terms) for achieving an 80,000 seat capacity for the Games. This involved reconfiguration of the lower tier of seating once the deck is installed, at a cost of up to £8 million (plus up to £15 million for the deck); and

  23.3  Planning application—submitted 15 November 1999.


  24.  The design was re-launched on 15 November 1999, to coincide with the submission of the planning application. Since then, the following comments from design specialists and athletics interests have been made about the design:

  24.1  Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)—established by the DCMS to advise the Department and "stimulate debate and promote the very best of architecture in this country" (DCMS Press Release, 2 August 1999). On 16 December 1999, it reported that its Committee "strongly supports this design".

  24.2  Stadia and Arena Management Magazine (December 1999 edition) commented that: ". . . it is the design of the `Olympic Platform' that is truly significant and one that will certainly set a trend in the new generation of stadiums that the new Wembley will herald. Put simply, it is the future of stadium design. In recent history, the need to incorporate a running track within any national stadium has been deemed as essential, the implication of which has been to move the crowd away from the bread and butter events held in most facilities. Solutions have been tried, eg the poor attempt in the Stade de France to implement movable seats. Several facilities have installed tracks and have then stripped out, or propose to do so after the event. Examples of this include the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta for the 1996 Games, Stadium Australia (venue for the 2000 Games) and the City of Manchester Stadium (venue for the 2002 Commonwealth Games) . . . The athletics track in anything other than a dedicated athletics facility is dead, with Wembley showing the way ahead".

  24.3  The Chief Executive of UK Athletics, David Moorcroft commented in December 1999 that "UK Athletics technical staff have been working with Wembley for some time to ensure that the new stadium is suitable for athletics. We are as convinced as ever that the new Wembley will provide a great home for flagship athletics events. I am aware of no technical reasons to prevent Wembley from hosting athletics" (Building, 17 December 1999, and widely reported in the national press).

  25.  Sport England has also completed its design appraisal in accordance with the Section Two milestone under the Lottery Funding Agreement. It is clear that the design complies with the technical requirements of the Agreement. There is now an opportunity to develop the best stadium in the world.

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