Pickett's Lock puts world bid back on track

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The Independent Online

Pickett's Lock, in the north-east London borough of Enfield, last night emerged as the surprise choice as Britain settled on a prospective host venue for the 2005 World Athletics Championships and any future Olympic Games.

The 127-acre site, which houses a sports centre and public golf course, was chosen from a shortlist of four as the location for Britain's bid, which will be formally heard in Paris on Monday week. It will be developed with the help of £60m from the Government.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State, will make the submission to the International Amateur Athletic Federation's council meeting. With no other bidder in the frame, all the indications are that Britain will be successful in the wake of the débâcle which saw Wembley drop out of the reckoning at the eleventh hour.

"It all happened rather quickly," said Sean Dawson, chief executive of the Lee Valley Park Authority, which owns the site. "We only became aware two weeks ago that Pickett's Lock was in the frame. It is a dark horse that has come up on the inside."

Dave Moorcroft, chief executive of UK Athletics, expressed his delight that another suitable site had been established so soon after Wembley was dismissed as an option to host athletics.

"We can now go to Paris with a name in the frame," he said. "But the most important thing is that this is the right name, with the right stadium, in the right area. The process has been right, and it's a great relief. There will be a legacy here for British athletics."

Moorcroft added that the British Olympic Association, whose doubts about the suitability of Wembley's re-design were confirmed by an independent enquiry, were also extremely positive about the decision. "The BOA very much liked the potential of the site," he said. "There is plenty of space for an Olympic park development. It could be really special."

It is proposed that a new stadium be built on the site now occupied by the 27-year-old Pickett's Lock Sports Centre, which is regarded as being close to the end of its natural life. The stadium would be built initially as a 50,000 capacity, then re-configured to a 20,000 capacity with a sliding roof.

A bid from London has been openly encouraged by the IAAF, which has ruled out the only other formal bid - from Perth, Australia - because the venue does not fit in well with European television schedules. But the IAAF president, Lamine Diack, said earlier this week that he would prefer to see a definite name on the British bid.

With that in place, the risk that Berlin would jump in with a late bid has receded. The formalities are likely to be observed on the same day that the host city, Paris, is granted the 2003 World Championships.

Last night's good news for Pickett's Lock was bad news for the other prospective sites at Hillingdon, Crystal Palace and Hackney. The latter location, centred on Hackney Stadium, also fell within the Lee Valley Partnership Authority's area and received its support.

The crucial difference was that while Hackney's bid was based on land owned by a private developer, Pickett's Lock is on a site owned by the LVPA, which raises money through levying the London boroughs, Hertfordshire and Essex, and was able to make a capital commitment of up to £5m. Transport links were also a critical factor. Pickett's Lock is 15 minutes south of the M25, five minutes north of the North Circular, and close to the main rail link between Liverpool Street, Stansted Airport and Cambridge.

Last month Britain's position appeared to be in disarray as a Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee criticised the Secretary of State's decision to abandon plans to house athletics and football at Wembley. Now, however, Britain appears back on track.

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