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The long-term legacy, particularly for athletics, from the Picketts Lock stadium would have been a permanent facility for the futuresomething for which athletes such as Denise Lewis have argued passionately.
The Select Committee report drew attention to a number of issues and difficulties. I have responded to some of its colourful specifics in public on a number of occasions, but it may be worth putting one or two points on the record.
The Committee's Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), described the range of organisations involved in any stadium project and, in particular, in the Wembley and Picketts Lock proposalssomewhat unflatteringly, I thoughtas "Fred Karno's army". What such a designation ignores is the plain and simple fact that any large project of this kind inevitably involves a large range of organisations. It would have been ridiculous to try to create a stadium in London without involving, for instance, the Government Office for London, the Mayor and the London borough concernedtogether with the Lee Valley authority, which happened to own the land and to be in the driving seat. My right hon. Friend's designation was, perhaps, a trifle unfair on organisations that were rightly involved.
The Select Committee report, and Members who have spoken today, suggest that the decision to recommend the removal of athletics from the original Wembley schemethe hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) raised this point in particularwas made because of the difficulty involving sightlines, and advice from, in particular, the British Olympic Association about the potential unsuitability of Wembley stadium for hosting the Olympic games. That was a consideration, but it was not the main consideration.
The decision was not made by the Secretary of State; it was urged on Wembley National Stadium Ltd., the Football Association and Sport England. It was made for two principal reasons. The first was based on practicality and value for money. It was proposed that, for the hosting of the world athletics championships, a concrete platform should be constructed in the middle of Wembley stadium. Construction would cost not £14 million but some £20 million, and would take six months. The platform would be used for a 10-day championship, and taking it down again would take another six months. There would be no permanent legacy for athletics, and in the meantime Wembley stadium would be unusable for 12 months. It was on grounds of practicality and value for money that I first had serious doubts about whether this was a sensible way of proceeding.
The second reason was the absence of warm-up facilities. I challenged the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) on that. The land that had been purchased, with the stadium on it, did not include land for such facilities. Any international athletics event must offer a warm-up facility as near as possible to the main stadium
Mr. Wyatt: It is scandalous that the land did not include a warm-up track, and we know that an earlier Government were involved; but does not the fact that the chief executive of Sport England made such a decision say a lot about what that organisation knows about international sport?
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend makes his own point strongly. I was faced with a decision based on the facts as they confronted me then. The creation of a warm-up facility adjacent to the stadium would have meant the identification of land that was not then owned by Wembley stadium or the Football Association. It would almost certainly have required compulsory purchase procedures involving a number of owners, and it would have been extremely expensive.
The two major problems that we encountered were the lack of practicality of the concrete-platform solution, and the lack of any easy way of identifying a warm-up facility. In the circumstances, I thought it sensible to look at other possibilities for the hosting of athletics championships.
Mr. Love: With the benefit of hindsight, and given what he has already said about the reasons for not choosing Wembley, does my right hon. Friend think that any subsequent event would have been likely to change his mind?
Mr. Smith: Almost certainly not. I was coming on to my third point, which is that at the heart of any major stadium project of this kind lies the difficulty of marrying a stadium for football with a stadium for athletics. A really good football stadium requires seating close to the pitch. It requires the best possible atmosphere, with spectators crowded in on the action. In the best football grounds, that is precisely what happens. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton mentioned last night's decision by my local authority about the Arsenal stadium scheme. That desired atmosphere is precisely what Arsenal's project achieved.
An athletics stadium, however, needs spectators to be further from the ground. A wider "footprint" is also needed, so that there can be a running track and space in the middle for throwing events, and spectators need to be placed in a rather different way so that at all stages they can see not just the athletes' heads but their feet as they go round the tracks.
It is possible to aim for a compromise. The Stade de France in Paris probably represents the best international attempt to achieve such a compromise: it has retractable seating at the lower levels. It is still not perfect for either sport, because the spectators are still some distance from a football game, while retracting the seating for athletics events produces a cliff around the athletics track before the seating starts. It is none the less a workable compromise. That was not on offer at Wembley: what was on offer there was a stadium that was tight around the pitch and therefore good for football, but with a concrete platform to transfer it to athletics mode.
Michael Fabricant: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the additional information he has given. Has he read the evidence given by Mr. Rod Sheard, to whom he spoke at the time? That evidence distinctly contradicts the information he has just given about the time it would take to remove the removable platform and restore it. Does he not now thinkagain with the benefit of hindsight, and given Mr. Sheard's evidencethat that would have been a workable compromise, and would not, in fact, have meant that Wembley could not be used for long periods between athletics and football events?
Mr. Smith: I understand that claims have been made that technology has moved on since December 1999, when the decision was taken, but that does not change the fundamentals of the picture. It would still take a
Bob Russell (Colchester): The right hon. Gentleman's ministerial brief included culture. Is he aware of any other country that has demolished such an important monument to its sporting past as an Olympic stadium? Wembley is also the home of England's greatest sporting triumph, so surely the Wembley towers at least should remain.
Mr. Smith: The problem with the hon. Gentleman's argument is that the Foster design for the new Wembley, as proposed in 1999, meant that the twin towers would have ended up in the middle of the pitch, which did not necessarily make for the best possible stadium. We wait to see what emerges from the FA in the next few weeks in relation to any redesign it may be considering, but I suspect that the problem persists. The other beneficial aspect of Wembley is that there is a definite need for regeneration across north-west London, so siting the new national stadium there would make a strong and positive contribution to that task.
If Wembley is to proceed it should not be at the cost of additional sums from the public purse. Shortly before the general election, the FA asked the Government for an additional sum of some £150 million to enable the Wembley project to proceed, but I rejected the proposal. I believe that I was right to do so, and it is worth putting it on record that the £120 million of lottery funding made available to the FA for the Wembley stadium becomes legally repayable if it does not proceed. I hope that Sport England will stand firmly by that.
I remind the FA that there is an agreement, minuted and followed up in correspondence, to return £20 million to the lottery in recompense for removing athletics from the scheme. That money is outstanding, and the FA should think seriously about starting to pay it back. While we are at it, let us learn the lessons of the Cardiff Millennium stadium, which was built for £126 million, including the purchase of the land. It hosted the FA cup final earlier this year, and everyone who went said what a good game it was and how good the stadium was. The Cardiff stadium is one for which I can claim a little credit as chairman of the Millennium Commission, which made a substantial sum available for it.
I applaud the Government's continued emphasis on grass-roots sport, because sports policy needs a combination of the encouragement of that and the objective of international excellence. The hon. Member for North Devon failed to acknowledge that this year, next year and the year after, the sport budget from the Exchequer will double. I negotiated that money, and I was proud to put it in place. Also, 1,000 school sports co-ordinator posts will be created to facilitate, encourage and enable sport to take place in our schools and school playing field sales have already declined from an average of 40 a month under the previous Government to about three a month.
We have put major initiatives in place over the past four years and I am pleased that they are being carried forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to encourage and facilitate grass-roots sport. Of course, there will be no medal winners tomorrow without mass participation among young people today, and we will not generate enthusiasm for participation among those young people if they have no heroes to emulate or international success to aspire to. The two go hand in hand.
For all those reasons, let us hope that the Government take the Select Committee's entertaining, but somewhat flawed, report with a small pinch of salt and stick to their determination to promote excellence and foster community spirit.