Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



60.  So you could actually build —

  (Mr Sheard) Technically.

61.  A bit clearer than "Technically it is possible" or ...?

  (Mr Sheard) Well, I mean for a project like this to proceed it needs support. It needs people getting behind it and there has not been a huge amount of evidence in this particular case in the past.


62.  Before calling, I would like to pursue three lines of questioning. First of all, if, instead of rejecting before the print was dry our report recommending Wembley with a platform solution, the Government had accepted that, would that have been ready in time for the 2005 championships?

  (Mr Sheard) Well, all I can really say is that it is a 39 month build period and that 39 months starts from when we actually get on site, so ... you can do the mathematics, I guess.

63.  Can I take that as a yes?

  (Mr Sheard) Personally I believe it would be possible.

64.  So we could have had the World Athletics Championships at Wembley, other things being equal, if Mr Smith had not decided within half an hour of the publication of our report that we were fools.

  (Mr Sheard) The evidence would seem to lead to that conclusion.

65.  I think there was a word along those lines in the rejection—directed at me, no doubt. Secondly, taking into account that the original Wembley Stadium was built in 300 days between 1922 and 1923 without a penny of government funding being contributed, why should governments get involved in building stadiums?

  (Mr Sheard) That is a really interesting question.

66.  Yes, but I want an interesting answer.

  (Mr Sheard) Britain has actually had a long history of not funding stadiums whereas most other countries have had a long history of building stadiums. There has hardly been a stadium built on Continental Europe in the last 15 years that has not had significant government money. Even in the United States, where people believe everything is completely free enterprise, if it was not for, not necessarily federal government but local state or local city money that went into building those buildings, we would not see anywhere near the number of stadiums that have been built over there. But it is really done—I can only assume that it is done—that public money goes into these buildings, because these buildings change communities, they change societies. They are used in many places around the world to develop places that have fallen into disrepair. The Colonial Stadium in Melbourne that we built has started a dockland development which they could not kick-start themselves. Our stadiums in Baltimore, really it is the same thing there. They are really tools. These buildings attract one million/two million visitors a year. Once upon a time, I suppose 10 years ago, you would have described that as a million football hooligans, whereas in this day and age, in the 21st century, we all recognise them as customers, because people want the same things that they want when they go to cinemas and shopping centres and everything else. They want good environments and they are prepared to spend money on them. I think that probably most countries around the world have woken up to the fact that you can use these buildings to build your cities and make them better places to live.

67.  On that basis, surely it would be even better to build Domes all over the place because, whatever the criticisms of the Millennium Dome, it regenerated the Greenwich Peninsula and 6.5 million people went there.

  (Mr Sheard) I do not think that is a Wembley question, is it?

68.  Let me ask you a directly relevant question and perhaps Mr Maslin could assist. What happened to the £120 million of Lottery money? Who has got it?

  (Mr Maslin) Effectively the £120 million was used in two ways. First of all, £106 million of that £120 million was used to buy the site of Wembley Stadium from Wembley plc: £103 million and stamp duty of a further £3 million. The remaining £14 million has effectively been used to take, if you like, the design up to the planning stage. So £120 million has effectively bought you the site and bought a design. So, ongoing, all additional finance would have to be provided essentially by the private sector.

69.  That is a very clear and authoritative answer and it places me in some doubt. £106 million has been spent perfectly reputably on buying the site but there is an agreement, about which I would like some information, that £20 million of that should nevertheless be paid back to the Government. So you are going to be £6 million short. You are going to have to find £6 million in view of the fact that there is this agreement.

  (Mr Maslin) Well, as your earlier report certainly portrayed, the whole issue of £20 million is at best a confusing area. At the moment, the whole issue of the £20 million is wrapped up within negotiations between the FA and Patrick Carter and his team, which are on-going at the moment and the results of which you should know by the end of this month.

70.  I am afraid that will not do. I do not mean that will not do in the sense that you are to be criticised in any way, but it just will not do, will it? We have had the former Secretary of State coming before this Committee periodically to say that £20 million is going to be repaid because of the fact that Wembley was not going to have an athletics facility. Mr Smith said that over and over and over again. We never knew the wording of the agreement although we understand it was an informal handshake between Mr Smith and Mr Bates. There is no piece of paper around on which it is written down that £20 million of public money will be transferred back from WNSL to the Government. If this Committee and this House of Commons is about anything it is about safeguarding public funds. So, again, may I make clear, Mr Maslin, without any criticism implied or explicit on yourself, we need to know more about this £20 million and I am interested to hear that it is now being negotiated about since we were told utterly categorically that it was coming back.

  (Mr Maslin) As I said, I can only repeat my former answer to you, Chairman, that WNSL are not involved in these negotiations, and it is a matter of discussion between the FA and Patrick Carter and his team over the coming weeks.

  Chairman: Again, without being critical of you, that reveals a profoundly unsatisfactory situation. This is, after all, public money. It is taxpayers' money and it is public money.

  Michael Fabricant: Of course, I suppose it would be academic if it were still to be held at Wembley Stadium. I have been doing some calculations —

  Chairman: Except, Michael, that what we know above all is that if these gentlemen's plans go ahead we cannot build Wembley Stadium in time for 2005.

Michael Fabricant

71.  This is the very point I was going to make with my calculations. I suspect, Chairman, you are right. However, you say 39 months and I was looking at the schedule that the warm-up events begin at the end of the June. I think that is the very latest when it would have to be handed over—end of June 2005—which means that provided there was no over-run, in theory if you were given the go-ahead (and this is a question not a statement, so confirm if I am correct) by May of next year to start the construction, you could hand-over by the end of June 2005. Or have I got it badly wrong?

  (Mr Maslin) You have lost a year.

72.  Everyone is looking confused. Clearly I have got it wrong. Could you explain?

  (Mr Maslin) I think if, for instance, we had an early start on the site, let us say January 2002, and then had 39 months to build, that takes us to March 2005. So, again, the issue then would be the element of risk in being able to deliver a championship effectively in June 2005 with the relevant amount of warm-up time that is necessary. So that would be the time-scale.

73.  Could you make it very clear for me, because I missed the last few words of what you were saying? Are you saying that there is, in effect, a deadline that if the Government were to say "Go ahead with Wembley Stadium site", by all that has passed over the last couple of years you could do it in time. If that were the case what is the deadline? What month are you saying the Government would have to make their decision by?

  (Mr Maslin) What I am saying is that to be able to start this project, and looking where we currently are in this project, it would be very optimistic to assume that we could start even in January 2002. Assuming we could start in January 2002, you have a full 39-month programme, so inevitably there are concerns about time delays in huge projects, and this is necessarily a huge project. Therefore, you are obviously taking a huge risk on being able to guarantee delivery of that facility in sufficient time for the event owners to be able to guarantee a championship of world class.

74.  Marginally, it is too late, you are saying?

  (Mr Maslin) Yes, in short.


75.  Even if it were not too late by your calculation, what Mr Maslin appears to be admitting, very frankly, is programme slip.

  (Mr Maslin) Not so much the programme. In the sense that we start from where we are today, to deliver an athletics solution for 2005 would be extremely risky.

Michael Fabricant

76.  The bottom line is that the Government does not have the option any more; because of what has happened over the last two years—am I right in saying—the Government does not really have the option any more to say that the event could go ahead at Wembley despite the fact that you are saying that you have had the meeting with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne and they think the sightlines for the platform are adequate for athletic events? You are nodding in the affirmative. That New York are going ahead with the same type of platform with the same type of sightlines and they will be making an Olympic bid—and would it not be ironic if they actually win the Olympic Games, which might well happen apart from anything else because of recent events—and yet this Government rejected it, and now it is not an option.

  (Mr Sheard) I think it is important to see the context of that rejection, because that rejection is based, from what we can tell, on a report that was prepared by another firm. That report, really, in the fullness of time has been proved to be fundamentally flawed, and the point you are making is quite right, yes.

  Michael Fabricant: They have now, of course, come up with a third option, an alternative platform, which leads, one might say, Mr Chairman, to a conflict of interest here. Anyway, I would not want to suggest that because I am not as waspish as you.

  Chairman: You could have fooled me.

Michael Fabricant

77.  Have you seen this third platform?

  (Mr Sheard) We really have not had the opportunity. I do not think many people have seen it. We have not had the opportunity of studying it, or anything like that. All I would really say is that I understand it is a scheme which tries to squeeze a new 90,000-seat stadium between the existing old twin towers and the railway line. We went through that in huge detail four years ago when we first started the process because, obviously, the first preference is to try and do that. There is huge social pressure on us, if nothing else, to try and keep those twin towers. The reality is yes, you can crow-bar a stadium in there but not a 21st-Century, state-of-the-art stadium, and not one that you can really put your hand on your heart and say is a safe stadium. We have not had the opportunity of studying it. It would be interesting to have that opportunity but we have not yet.

  Michael Fabricant: I fear, Chairman, this is going the same way as the inquiry into Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House. There are certain similarities.


78.  At least we got our way on that. Can you tell me, Mr Sheard, what has gone wrong with construction in the past 80 years? Wembley Stadium was started in April 1922 with the stipulation that it must be ready for the 1923 Cup Final in April of that year. It was ready. How is it then that now, when construction methods are much more refined than they were in those primitive days, stadiums take such ages to build?

  (Mr Sheard) Yes, that is a really good question. I think, really, the answer to it is that what we design today as a stadium is a totally different beast to what was produced at the beginning of this century. Just to give you a feeling of scale, the original Wembley had I think something like 200,000 sq ft of facilities in it, whereas ours has 2 million sq ft. It is just a totally different scale, a totally different standard of health and safety, and exit routes and everything else. It is a different animal completely.

Mr Bryant

79.  I am afraid I was not on the Select Committee before, so I have rather different views about what should be at Wembley or not. I have never understood why we should have anything at all at Wembley. It is at the end of a rotten tube line and there is no decent public transport system at all. It would not be fit in time for the Olympics and it is now completely impossible, as far as I can see, unless you are going to take enormous risk on being able to deliver anything by the year 2005. So if the previous discussion was academic, this is completely academic, is it not?

  (Mr Sheard) Firstly, I do not agree with you about transport links. We look at an awful lot of sites around the world where people want to try and build stadiums, and I can assure you Wembley is probably one of the better sites we have had to try and assess. One of the problems that Wembley causes is when people drive there, but if we can get people to use public transport—and the indications around the world are that we are managing to achieve that—a huge proportion (and I cannot tell you the exact percentage) of the people at the Stadium in Australia took public transport and it was really a very simple rail system. It was less well-served by public transport than the present Wembley is. In terms of being able to deliver it, it probably is academic I suspect. All I can really give you are the facts: it takes 39 months to build. Realistically, mankind can do amazing things but it probably cannot get a stadium built in the time available for the athletics, I suspect.

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