Wembley owners 'knew plan would be disapproved'

Wembley's owners knew in October that the proposed £475m national stadium would fall short of the Government's requirements for increased seating capacity for an Olympic Games. The developers chose not to ask the architects to attempt a redesign.

Wembley's owners knew in October that the proposed £475m national stadium would fall short of the Government's requirements for increased seating capacity for an Olympic Games. The developers chose not to ask the architects to attempt a redesign.

According to a source close to the project, that decision was taken because Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) was unhappy that the British athletics authorities were not contributing to the cost of the stadium. WNSL did not feel there was a real possibility of the stadium ever hosting an Olympic Games.

"The BOA won't put a penny into the stadium," the source said, and added that there was resentment from WNSL that it would carry the burden for most of the construction costs.

WNSL received £120m of lottery funding to provide a stadium capable of seating 90,000 for football and 65,000 for athletics. Although the Government later told WNSL it needed to increase the capacity for athletics to 80,000 (which would cost an extra £54m), WNSL did not ask the architectural team, led by Lord Foster, to work on a solution. "A redesign couldn't be contemplated," a source said.

The source added that the Sports Minister, Kate Hoey, was told that the design was not going to be altered to make it suitable and hence ordered an independent report, by the stadium experts Ellerbe Becket, that showed its flaws.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, sent the plans back to the drawing board on Wednesday.

According to those close to the project, WNSL felt that as the British Olympic Association (which would oversee a British Olympic bid) was not contributing to the cost of the stadium, nothing should be done to accommodate it. WNSL said last night that Ellerbe Becket's report contained factual inaccuracies and maintained that it still wanted to find a solution.

"We are confident that once the shortcomings of the Ellerbe Becket analysis are made clear, and the fact that we have complied fully with the requirements of the Lottery Funding Agreement, it will become apparent that the Wembley proposal is suitable for athletics usage," the statement said.

Lord Foster's office was making no comment on the issue, but it is understood that the architectural team feel it would be impossible to completely redesign the stadium within two weeks.

An increasing likely option, as Chris Smith hinted on Wednesday, is that Wembley will be re-built as a football stadium (with some, but not all, of the Lottery grant) and a separate Olympic arena will be planned elsewhere for athletics.

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