Athletics: Confusion over demolition of Crystal Palace

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The Independent Online
Campaigners defending the athletics facilities at Crystal Palace hailed a major victory yesterday after reports that the threat of imminent demolition had been removed and a pledge made to install a new pounds 3.5m indoor training centre at the site.

But the picture was thrown into confusion last night when the Sports Council issued a statement saying that no decisions over the future use of Crystal Palace had yet been taken. "Athletics is still an option," a spokesman said. "But the whole business will be considered at a further meeting involving Bromley Borough Council on 12 May."

A delegation representing the campaigners, led by the Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, met the Sports Council's executive director, Derek Casey, in London on Thursday and were given assurances that the facility would remain at Crystal Palace, but have its spectator capacity reduced to allow the indoor facilities to be built. "I am pleased that the English Sports Council is now committed to supporting athletics at Crystal Palace," Hoey said.

Bromley Council announced yesterday that they would be including athletics in their plans for the future at Crystal Palace.

Bromley's original idea had been to increase the facilities at the Norman Park site within their borough and to demolish the Crystal Palace running track and indoor facility to make way for a walkway reproducing the layout for the original site of the Crystal Palace in the 1850s.

The council, which is due to take over the Crystal Palace lease from the Sports Council, had previously announced its intention to save pounds 1m by demolishing the National Stadium's main stand, track and indoor training area.

The storm of protest has this week succeeded in winning support from the sports minister, Iain Sproat, who responded to a widespread lobbying campaign and pledged his support for the athletics facilities, saying that it was his intention that the facilities continued to be provided until better ones were on offer elsewhere.

Campaigners, who had presented a 12,500-signature petition at the House of Commons on Tuesday reacted with delight at the prospect of athletics at Crystal Palace being saved.

"It is great news for athletics in this country," said Richard Simmons, the national sprint coach who has led the protests. "Some hard negotiations lie ahead but I hope that people will now be able to go forward together for the good of sport."

Simmons thanked the campaigners who had helped to bring the matter to prominence in recent weeks. They included the former Olympic athletes Steve Ovett and Dave Bedford and current athletes such as Donna Fraser and Judy Oakes.

Sally Gunnell, the former world and Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion and current British team captain, added: "I am absolutely delighted.

"Right from the age of 12 when my dad used to drive me all the way from our farm in Chigwell to train there I knew there was nowhere else like the Palace. It's vital for all the athletes in London and the south that it will continue to keep going. It's especially good news for the future generations of athletes and that is why I have backed the campaign 100 per cent."