Crikey’s man in Westminster has pulled together this excellent piece explaining the disasters surrounding the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium in North London which both Multiplex/Packer and Lend Lease have had a shot at.

Why? Because the Poms are now officially not only crap at sport, they haven’t even got a stadium to play their national sport in, while the Welsh managed to design build and complete a magnificent 70,000 seat venue with retractable roof on time and almost to budget at a tad over £120 million.

As one Welsh wag put it: “It’s amazing we found the time to build it given all that sheep shagging the English say we’re supposed to be doing.”

The Cardiff Millennium Stadium is so good last year’s FA Cup final, this year’s Charity Shield and all the English divisional playoffs were held there. It is a triumph for streamlined management compared with the embarrassing fiasco the “redevelopment” of the famous Wembley stadium has turned out to be .

In the last few months the saga of Wembley has been a shining example of how not to decide on where your national stadium should be and what sports should be played there.

It’s also a tale of how a government refuses to face up to the reality that it needs to take a lead (and cough up cash) in providing infrastructure for international events.

The old Wembley should at the moment be a pile of rubble as it was due for demolition almost a year ago, but instead it stands as a monument to past glories and is costing more to keep closed than it did to stay open.

Rumours are circulating the government will next week announce the location of the new national stadium and it may not even be London.

Let’s be blunt. The old Wembley is a dump in the middle of an industrial estate that makes most tips look like lush picnic grounds. It is an eyesore, provides poor value for money for spectators in terms of the view and is poorly served by public transport.

It is the obvious choice, but people are now so fed up with the whole sorry affair that other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham are throwing their hats in the ring.

The fly in the ointment was catering for athletics in the new Wembley design and it proved to be the catalyst for the whole project going back to the drawing board.

The government had wanted to redevelop Wembley to put it in the frame for a 2012 Olympic bid after the International Olympic Committee made it clear it would only look at London as a venue if the UK entered the race.

The plans didn’t include an athletics track – sort of vital if you’re going to stage an Olympics don’t you think? But football is a powerful lobby over here and the only focus was on England getting the 2006 World Cup, and you wouldn’t want some old athletics track messing up your brand new stadium, would you?

A compromise was suggested by installing a temporary raised athletics track but this meant reducing the stadium’s 90,000 capacity to 75,000 as 20 rows of seating would have to be removed.

That is below the 80,000 capacity which the British Olympic Association say is the bare minimum necessary for the main stadium if Britain is to stand any chance of hosting a future Games.

The installation of the extra seats to meet the Olympic requirement would close the new stadium for a year at a cost of £45 million. The government then stepped in and said it was taking athletics out of the equation and would build a new 43,000 seat track and field stadium at Edmonton in north London. It also wants back some of the £120 million it gave the project as it now appears to be a football only deal and the grant was conditional on the stadium holding athletics events.

As the World Athletics Championships drew to a low-key close in Edmonton, Canada, the folks of Edmonton, north London could hardly wait for the 2005 event to come their way to watch the Poms grab a plucky fifth place or two.

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve been to both Edmontons (well I went to the mall in the Canadian version – why else do you go there in the autumn?), and the UK original doesn’t seem to inspire, maybe its the rubbish by the side of the road or the abandoned cars, can’t quite put my finger on it.

Perhaps it’s simply the fact that there is no athletics stadium in Edmonton, north London because at the moment its nothing more than a set of architects drawings which may never see the light of day.

Once the football boys got their own way Ken Bates, the Chelsea Football Club chairman who was in charge of the project, expanded the original deal to include a conference centre and hotel. This was designed to raise extra revenue, but it also raised the cost of the project to almost £700 million.

Bates resigned from the project, which has had its budget slashed to around £500 million. Even this is a far cry from the 1996 estimate of £200 million.

Banks have so far refused to lend the money needed to build the stadium because they think the FA is being over-optimistic about how much money the new complex will make and the inclusion of too many unnecessary facilities for a football only stadium.

Perth-based and Packer-backed builder Multiplex, which built the Sydney Olympic stadium for only £260 million, reportedly offered to shoulder up to £350 million in return for a 20-year-lease on the new stadium.

At least £100 million would still have to come from the FA, which would rent the stadium from Multiplex until the end of the contract. At that point ownership would be handed to either Sport England, a government body, or the English Football Association.

However, Multiplex never confirmed this offer while the FA is still holding out the begging bowl in the hope the government will step in at the last minute despite claims from Downing Street that it cannot “step in as a bank of last resort”.

The alternative choices are sunny Manchester or balmy Birmingham, but out west you can still hear them laughing.

Peter Fray

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