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Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I wish to clarify one point. The £120 million is not sitting in a bank account somewhere. The scandal is that the money has been used to buy the land, which has just been left unused. That is one of the important points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
The decision to remove athletics from Wembley was, in my view, disastrous and should never have been agreed. That flawed decision set in train the sequence of events that culminated in the sad, embarrassing but probably quite correct decision to pull the plug on Picketts Lock. While Carter's report remains in the hands of his team and the FA, this House has no idea how the £120 million of good causes cash is being accounted for at the moment.
Michael Fabricant: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the chance to read the transcript of the evidence given to the Select Committee, but is he aware of what the Secretary of Statewho is in her place at presenttold the Committee? She said that although she
Nick Harvey: Had the Government had some disastrous reason to go to the IAAF in the months preceding a tournament that was supposed to have been held in London and said that, owing to an explosion or some unforeseen circumstance, they had to offer another city in London's stead, they could reasonably have expected a sympathetic hearing. However, it was over-optimistic in the extreme of them to make such an offer four years in advance of the tournament. One of the other lessons worth reflecting on is that the competition to hold the games was never exactly hot. That should have told the Government something.
As the saga has gone on, however, the goalposts have not only been moved but have been taken away along with the ball and the teams. If the FA is going to keep the £120 million of lottery money, it should also be bound to meet the terms on which the grant was originally based. If, on the other hand, the plans do not include provision for athleticsas seems to be the caseat the very least the £20 million that it seems to have been agreed should be returned must now be returned.
However, I suspect from the lack of clear answers to written parliamentary questions of late, and from looking at the weekend's press, that we can anticipate a Wembley rebuild being completedif we are to believe what we readby the summer of 2005, in time to hold either the FA charity shield, which normally takes place in early August, or even an England friendly game shortly before that. In other words, that would be only a month or so after the world athletics championships would have taken place in London.
The lesson that we have to draw from that is that if the Government had not spent three years dithering over what to do, who to get to do it, and how to change it all once it had been agreed, we could have had a stadium fit for athletics, football and rugby ready within the required time frame, as well as a lasting legacy for all those sports.
Nick Harvey: It is not possible to build a world-class athletics stadium that would be economically viable in its own right, because it simply would not generate sufficient gate receipts. The perfectly sensible proposal implicit in the original plan was that the FA would raise the bulk of the money for the football stadium, and that public money would be in place to graft athletics on to the project, which would be given its viability principally by having a regular football crowd in, as that is the only way to provide a sustainable revenue at the gate.
That was a perfectly viable option. Even now, it is estimated that the £14 million cost of putting in place an athletics platform and the £6 million for a warm-up track would not exceed the £20 million that was set aside to bring athletics into the equation. Now, the country has lost the world athletics championships, so we have the chance to draw breath and sort this out once and for all.
It is ironic that delay upon delay over the past three years has got us into the dreadful situation in which we now find ourselves. We have missed the boat for the 2005 championships, yet everyone suddenly wants to do everything in a great rush, even though there is no longer any time pressure on us.
Nick Harvey: The proposition to buy the entire Wembley site would probably, originally, have made such a project feasible, although clearly not as a long-term fixture or fitting. It would, however, have been possible to create such a facility in reasonable proximity to the stadium as a one-off.
The questions that we must now address are whether the terms of the initial grant to the FA have been met, whether they can be met and, if not, whether that money should be given back and, as has been suggested, the issue of support from Sport England should be revisited from scratch. This country needs an economically viable facility for holding world-class athletics meetings that could be part of a future world athletics championships or Olympic bid. Even with full backing from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and underwriting from central Government, it is proving unlikely that two separate facilities could be built. It will be too late to consider plans for an integrated venue if we go ahead now with the football-only solution. If we do that, we shall miss the opportunity to pursue the possibility of a venue for both sports.
Since Carter has considered other venues as possibilities for siting a football stadium, he would almost certainly be the best placed person to consider the merits of those venues as sites for multi-purpose stadiums. The FA still has at least a £20 million stake in providing a multi-purpose venuea not insubstantial sum, which would reduce the cost to itself and any other financiers.
Without a coherent plan for the provision of all sports, we will simply be talking about stadiums this time next year, at a time when the Government and their agencies should be getting on and building one.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): Perhaps it is worth starting by reminding ourselves why it is beneficial to the country to host a world athletics championship. In my view, it is beneficial in two ways. One is in relation to the international sporting profile that can come from such a major event. After the Olympic games and the football world cup, the world athletics championship is probably the third most important international sporting event. More than that, hosting a championship is important for the impact that it has on the thousands of young people who see an event taking place in their country and are inspired to take part in sport, and to become sportsmen and sportswomen themselves. That double effect of international sporting importance and of encouragement to grass-roots sport is an extremely important reason why it was right to seek to host the world athletics championship in the first place.
I regret the decision taken by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport not to proceed with the Picketts Lock scheme. I entirely respect the decision that she took, and I know that two issues in particular weighed in her mind. However, developments subsequent to the general election changed the picture on both those issues to a certain extent.
One was the transport link, relating to the enhancement of the rail link on the Stansted line from Liverpool Street to Picketts Lock, and to the proposed new station immediately beside the stadium. The second issue related to the Middlesex university campus accommodation that had been intended to form the athletes' accommodation. On both those issues, delays appeared to set in. My view was that those problems could have been solved. None the less, the decision was taken, and I respect that fact.
Let us remind ourselves what we could have gained if Picketts Lock had gone ahead. It would have been not only a stadium dedicated to athletics for the world championships, but a continuing facility for future athletics use, linked directly to a high-class indoor performance centre and a practice throwing field and track, all side by side and able to provide a long-term legacy for athletics, not only at championship level but for community and school use across the capital and the south-east.
Michael Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman will have read this report. Before Picketts Lock was being considered, we were, of course, considering Wembley stadium. Will he tell us honestly, with the benefit of hindsightalthough no one can possess that giftwhether he regrets moving the contest from Wembley stadium to Picketts Lock?