£40m plan unveiled to prevent Don Valley stadium being used for housing redevelopment


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The Independent Online

The site of the doomed Don Valley stadium, where Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis began her career, could be transformed into a new sport, technology and education facility.

A £40m plan unveiled by former sports minister Richard Caborn would prevent the track from being used for housing development and will be the biggest Olympic legacy project outside London, its backers claimed.

Sheffield City Council announced earlier this month that it was to close the £29m stadium in a bid to shave £700,000 off its annual budget.  The move was condemned by Ms Ennis and her coach Toni Minichiello and raised questions over Britain’s sporting inheritance from the 2012 Olympics.

The new scheme however will incorporate enhanced athletics facilities at nearby Woodburn Road including seating for 2,000 spectators, whilst providing new homes for the city’s two rugby clubs, basketball, gymnastics and snooker.

There will also be a new university technical college and the new National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine designed to exploit the 200 medical technology companies based in the city region. It would potentially create 940 jobs.

Mr Caborn said the plan – which has yet to undergo a full feasibility study - would also fulfil the commitment made when London won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. “One option was to knock it down and build houses and get a capital receipt,” he said.

“In effect it becomes an advanced sports and wellbeing park giving a comprehensive delivery of the Olympic legacy that we promised in Singapore in 2005,” he added.

The stadium was built to host the World Student Games in 1991 but has only seen its 25,000 capacity reached four times during its lifetime.

Mr Caborn said that he had been briefed by the council to come up with a new plan which would cost the local authority and council taxpayers nothing. But the proposal was not in place in time for the council to set its budget.

The £40m was only a fifth of the amount being used to redevelop the Olympic Stadium in London, he said. The money would be provided by a variety of European, national, regional and sports partners.

Mr Caborn who was MP for Sheffield Central was an enthusiastic supporter of the 1991 Games which was supposed to revive an area of derelict steel works but left the city with a debt of £658m.

Mr Minichiello said he was happy with the proposal. “Certainly from the athletics point of view, I think it's a superb plan," he said. "You are looking at a substantially larger investment into the Woodburn Road track and an indoor facility there, which is more than I could have hoped for.

“It would have been lovely to keep the stadium but last week there was no future for athletics in Sheffield and now there is. I think it gives us a real future for athletics in Sheffield.

There was also a cautious welcome from Lord Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

“I have seen the proposal and it is actually quite a thoughtful one and relies on the proper delivery of track and field in Sheffield which will form a significant part of the delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy,” he said.

Sheffield City Council has already made £140m in cuts in the past two years and faces further savings until 2018.