Football: Wembley developers made to wait for verdict

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The Independent Online
WEMBLEY'S DEVELOPERS will have to wait until later this week at the earliest to discover whether they have Government approval for the proposed pounds 475m redevelopment of the stadium.

An announcement by the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, which was due today, has been postponed. The British Olympic Association, meanwhile, has reiterated that it has "serious reservations" about the suitability of the stadium as a venue for a future Olympics.

The BOA's statement said: "We are pleased to learn Wembley National Stadium Limited has now provided UK Athletics with the necessary assurances regarding Wembley's ability to stage the 2005 World Athletics Championships.

"However, we continue to have serious reservations concerning the ability of Wembley to increase its athletic seating capacity to that required for an Olympic Games.

"These concerns, raised as soon as we learnt of Wembley's `Olympic Solution', have been fuelled by the independent report from Ellerbe Becket and subsequent meetings and discussions."

Smith sent the plans back to the drawing board a fortnight ago after the report by the stadium experts, Ellerbe Becket, said the venue would not be suitable for an Olympic Games.

The report said that a temporary transformation from a 90,000-seat football stadium to a 67,000-seat athletics arena (through the installation of a temporary track on a concrete deck) would be too problematic and take too long. Wembley National Stadium Limited, which received a pounds 120m Lottery grant on the condition that the stadium would be capable of hosting an Olympics, has said those findings are factually inaccurate. It has made no changes to its designs.

Although WNSL and UK Athletics announced on Tuesday that they have agreed that Wembley will be suitable to host the 2005 World Athletics championships (if they come to London), the crux of Smith's decision is whether WNSL has fully fulfilled its remit in regard to an Olympics. Smith will meet with senior sports figures today, including Simon Clegg and Craig Reedie (the chief executive and chairman, respectively, of the BOA) to discuss their continuing concerns.

If Wembley is not deemed suitable for a future Olympics - and sources close to Smith say he does not think it is - a separate site for an athletics arena will have to be found. Crystal Palace, Twickenham and the Millennium Dome have all been mooted.

The fate of the Lottery grant (which is a matter for Sports Lottery fund, not Smith) will also have to decided. It is these decisions which are causing the delay. An announcement is expected before Christmas.