Birmingham's stadium plans gather support

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The Independent Online

The City of Birmingham will today launch its campaign to become the home of English football amid signs of Government tensions over the choice of site for the new national stadium.

Although Wembley remains the front-runner in Whitehall, several ministers are arguing strongly for the prestigious project to be built in the West Midlands. Details of the futuristic 85,000-seat stadium proposed for a site adjacent to the National Exhibition Centre complex will be unveiled today. If ministers back the scheme, it could be built by late 2005.

The project is jointly backed by the councils of Birmingham and Solihull, as well as the NEC Group, which argues that the 190-acre site has unrivalled road and rail links to the rest of the country.

Its launch coincides with the former Prison Service director Patrick Carter today presenting a report into the three rival proposals – Wembley, Birmingham and Coventry – to Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Carter will not come down in favour of one location, but will present an assessment of each location's viability, with the final decision left to Jowell.

Departmental sources say that Wembley remains the front-runner because of the amount of money already spent on the site and the worldwide recognition of the Wembley name. But a vigorous campaign is being fought by West Midlands-based ministers to bring the project to the region.

The Home Office Minister, Lord Rooker, a former Birmingham MP, has declared: I'm sick of everything going into the South-east and I have made this very clear."

Two Cabinet Ministers – Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development – are also understood to be arguing for the Birmingham bid. Short was an outspoken critic of the decision to build the Millennium Dome in London.

A Commons early day motion supporting Birmingham has been signed by 57 MPs with ministers also desperate to avoid a repeat of the Dome fiasco by choosing a stadium that drains public coffers.

A spokesman for the Birmingham bid said last night: "All we can do is put together the best proposal in terms of accessibility and in terms of the stadium and how it operates and its cost. We are very confident over the quality of our proposals."

The city of Coventry has proposed a 90,000-seat stadium on the site of an unused gasworks in Foleshill. The bid is seen as the outsider of the three.

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