Redevelopment will close Wembley for two years

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The Independent Online
Wembley, the leisure group that operates Wembley Stadium, said yesterday the ground was likely to be closed for at least two years under the latest redevelopment plans submitted to the English Sports Council. The move will mean sporting events from the FA Cup Final to England's international football games will have to be moved to alternative venues.

Negotiations between Wembley and the Sports Council have been dogged by delays. Details of the new stadium were due to be finalised this summer. However, Wembley said it was confident the revised plans would soon get the green light.

Claes Hultman, Wembley's chairman, said yesterday: "We are optimistic that this plan will be agreed soon. The stadium will have to be knocked down. It will take two years to finish."

The scheme has been given a provisional grant of pounds 120m from the National Lottery to cover most of the development costs, although the total cost of the project is likely to approach pounds 200m. However, Wembley moved to allay fears that the project would suffer from a lack of funds. Mr Hultman said: "We are in complex negotiations at the moment but we do not expect any funding problems." Wembley's finance director said the group was not likely to have to pay out any extra money for the development, raising speculation that the Government will eventually plug the funding gap.

Wembley had hoped to keep part of the stadium open throughout the redevelopment and is to receive compensation for loss of earnings during the refit. The loss of a US legal dispute, which cost Wembleypounds 16.7m, saw the group plunge into the red. It made a pre-tax loss of pounds 3m for the six months to June.

The case involved a dispute between the PCC ticketing agency, once owned by Wembley, and US rival Moviefone, with whom the group entered into a co-operation agreement. But problems emerged when PCC was sold to Ticketmaster, who did not maintain the original agreement. Wembley's underlying pre- tax profits also slipped from pounds 15.6m to pounds 14.2m due to impact of the huge success of Euro 96 football tournament on last year's figures.

Operating profits from the Wembley complex fell to pounds 5.7m (pounds 7.91m). Revenue at Wembley Arena fell due to a lack of big-name draws. However, the group said that concerts from a host of stars, including Elton John and Gary Glitter, should ensure the arena earnings rose in the second half.

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