Birmingham back in running for national soccer stadium

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The Independent Online

The City of Birmingham has been warned to be on stand-by to construct the national football stadium amid growing doubts that plans to rebuild Wembley can attract sufficient financial backing.

A senior Whitehall source said yesterday that the chances of the Wembley project finally being approved were "barely more than 50-50".

Ministers have given the Football Association until the end of this month to raise the estimated £300m to turn the Wembley stadium site into a new home for English football.

Birmingham had assumed its chances had been dashed by the clear preference of the FA, which has pledged £100m to the project, to redevelop the Wembley site in north-west London. But since then the scheme's backers in the City of London have struggled to win firm promises of cash, with speculation growing that they might have to ask for an extension of the 30 April deadline.

West Midlands MPs have pressed ministers not to give Wembley extra time to raise the money. The Government has told them of its fears over the Wembley financing and urged backers of the Birmingham scheme to be ready to resubmit it at short notice. A Birmingham City Council spokesman said yesterday: "We are ready to go."

The Wembley project – now more than four years behind its original schedule – had been due to be approved in mid- December. But it was put on hold at the last minute by Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Under Birmingham's plans, an 85,000-seat stadium is proposed for a 190-acre site adjacent to the National Exhibition Centre. The project is jointly backed by Birmingham and Solihull councils, as well as the NEC Group. They say the site has good road and rail links and is the fans' choice.