Stadium fiasco hits athletics showpiece

2005 games may be postponed or moved after urgent review is announced of the viability of the proposed site
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Plans for a showpiece £93m athletics stadium to host the 2005 World Championships in London could be scrapped to avoid another Wembley-style funding fiasco, it was confirmed yesterday.

Plans for a showpiece £93m athletics stadium to host the 2005 World Championships in London could be scrapped to avoid another Wembley-style funding fiasco, it was confirmed yesterday.

The future of the Picketts Lock development was put on hold on Monday when Sport England, the public funding body, ordered an "urgent review" of the project's viability.

Lottery funding of £60m earmarked for the project will be frozen until four key areas of concern are resolved, including a £7m to £12m capital shortfall and the stadium's future as a national centre for athletics.

UK Athletics, which is leading the consortium to build the stadium in Enfield, north London, said it had no alternative but to honour its commitment to stage the 2005 games and was proceeding as planned.

But as Patrick Carter, the businessman who is reappraising the Wembley scheme, began his seven-week review of Picketts Lock yesterday, Sport England insiders said alternative venues or even postponement of the event could now be considered.

A source said: "We are committed to the delivery of a stadium for 2005 but if we can't be satisfied that the current proposal is viable then we have a duty to think again.

"We don't want a Wembley on our hands. Other venues could be considered, possibly outside London, or we could look at the timetable. There is real pressure on Picketts Lock to convince us."

Despite 18 months of planning, including a £1m feasibility study, plans to turn Picketts Lock into a national athletics stadium have fallen foul of a series of political and technical hitches.

The project dates back to December 1999 when Chris Smith, the former culture secretary, announced that an athletics track would no longer be included in the new £660m Wembley stadium because it would be too expensive and impractical. He pledged that athletics would be found an alternative home.

The search for a venue became urgent last year when London was awarded the 2005 World Championships by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF).

Funding pledges for the Picketts Lock complex – the cost of which is estimated at £87m to £93m – have come in the form of £60m from Sport England's lottery panel, £7m from a separate Sport England fund, £5m from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and £8m from government modernisation funds – leaving a shortfall of £7m to £13m.

Among the options understood to be open to the Government and Sport England is an approach to Germany, due to hold the 2007 World Championships, to see if it would swap for 2005. Other venues, such as Sheffield or Birmingham, could also be approached, although that could create difficulties with the IAAF which awarded the games specifically to the capital.

Ministers and sporting leaders are desperate to prevent any further damage to Britain's reputation over its ability to stage showpiece events following the halt to work on the new Wembley national stadium and the announcement of a £105m package to plug a hole in the budget for next year's Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Richard Caborn, the Sports minister, who said last week that the "short-term" approach to building stadiums for specific events was no longer viable, faces the additional difficulty of honouring a Labour election manifesto pledge to stage the 2005 games in London.

Athletics luminaries led by former Olympic champion and Conservative peer Lord Coe criticised the failure to decide on a venue for 2005 and begin construction work. Lord Coe said: "I think it is chaotic. I'm sure the International Amateur Athletics Federation say they have confidence but the reality is we are looking like a laughing stock."

A UK Athletics spokeswoman said the consortium was confident it could reassure Mr Carter on the funding and other problems. "We will press ahead with Picketts Lock. We believe it is the best project available. Other venues or postponement are not viable. There is no plan B," she added.