The tortuous journey towards a new national football stadium will take a final and significant turn in the coming days. Whether the route follows the road to Wembley, Birmingham or nowhere is still undecided. But the options have been narrowed and, after years of procrastination, controversy and farce, the country's football supporters will know where the national game will make its future home.
The ultimate decision over the location of the stadium lies with the Football Association, without whose support no new arena will be built, but that decision will be heavily influenced by a Government report prepared by its appointed "troubleshooter", Patrick Carter.
A former non-executive director of the prison service and now a successful businessman, Carter was originally called upon to investigate the finances of next year's Commonwealth Games. He advised the Government to provide extra money and £105m was subsequently paid. His next project was to assess the viability of Picketts Lock as a venue for the 2005 World Athletics Championships. He advised that the stadium was not a viable option and the project was scrapped.
Carter was then asked to turn his attention to the national football stadium. His report has been handed to the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, and will form the basis of the FA's decision. Whatever he concludes will carry weight.
The decisive factor in choosing a location will be money. That will rule out at least one of the possible options, the original "new Wembley" that would have been the showpiece venue of the 2006 World Cup if the tournament had been secured. The cost (£660m) has already proved prohibitive once.
Carter's report is likely to conclude that Wembley as a location has much in its favour, including history, planning permission, Lottery funding (£120m, already spent on the site), mayoral support and benefits to the local community through new jobs and urban regeneration. But it might not be enough to swing a decision in its favour. Even a scaled-down Wembley is likely to need some additional Government money and it is thought that none will be forthcoming.
Indeed Jowell is understood to think that the Government should not play a financial role in the building of the stadium and will say so publicly soon, perhaps even today when she appears before a Commons select committee investigating major sports projects.
Such a view would echo that of her predecessor, Chris Smith, who told the FA in no uncertain terms in the Spring that it would not provide large amounts of funding. Smith revealed as much to Parliament at the time. "The FA initially requested up to £300m from the Government," he said in early May. "I am afraid that that is simply not on, especially when the scale of the current costly design of the new Wembley is due to the needs of the commercial interests in the project." One source close to the FA believes Carter may dismiss all Wembley options on this basis.
The other options Carter has considered include Birmingham, where two independent legal reports into that scheme's most contentious issue, planning permission, have been commissioned. It is understood that both highlighted "significant benefits" in the plan, and concluded that a "fast-track" final planning application, which would end with a final response in June or early July next year, would have a good chance of getting the green light.
A project in Coventry is also being considered, as is no stadium at all. The key, for everyone involved, will be a solution that will definitely happen. Or definitely not.Reuse content