Wembley owners `knew plan would be disapproved'

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WEMBLEY'S OWNERS knew in October that the proposed pounds 475m national stadium would fall short of the Government's requirements for increased seating capacity for an Olympic Games. But the developerschose not to ask the architects to attempt a redesign.

According to a source close to the project, that decision was taken because Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) was annoyed that the British athletics authorities were not contributing to the cost of the stadium. WNSL did not feel there was a real possibility of the stadium ever hosting an Olympic Games.

"The BOA [British Olympic Association] won't put a penny into the stadium," the source said, adding that there was resentment from WNSL that it would carry the burden for most of the construction costs.

WNSL received pounds 120m of lottery funding to provide a stadium capable of seating 90,000 for football and 65,000 for athletics. Although the Government later told WNSL it needed to increase the capacity for athletics to 80,000, which would cost an extra pounds 54m, WNSL did not ask the architectural team, led by Lord Foster of Thames Bank, to work on a solution. "A redesign couldn't be contemplated," a source said. The source added that the minister for Sport, Kate Hoey, was told the design was not going to be altered to make it suitable and hence ordered an independent report, by the stadium experts Ellerbe Becket, that showed its flaws.

The report concluded that if the new stadium was to be temporarily converted - from a 90,000-seat football stadium into an 80,000 seat Olympic arena - there would be problems with, among other things, spectators' views, leg room, the roof and the alignment of the running track.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said on Wednesday in a statement to the Commons: "My reluctant conclusion is that this stadium, as designed, or in any similar configuration, cannot readily provide the central venue for an Olympic Games bid for London." He sent the plans back to the drawing board, giving WNSL two weeks to find a solution.

According to those close to the project, WNSL felt that as the BOA was not contributing to the cost of the stadium, nothing should be done to accommodate it. WNSL said last night that Ellerbe Becket's report contained factual inaccuracies and maintained that it still wanted to find a solution.

"We are confident that once the shortcomings of the Ellerbe Becket analysis are made clear, and the fact that we have complied fully with the requirements of the Lottery Funding Agreement, it will become apparent that the Wembley proposal is suitable for athletics usage," the statement said.

Lord Foster's office was making no comment on the issue, but it is understood that the architectural team felt it would be impossible to redesign the stadium completely within two weeks.

Another likely option, as Mr Smith hinted on Wednesday, is that Wembley will be rebuilt as a football stadium and a separate Olympic arena will be planned elsewhere for athletics, with some of the Lottery grant.