Sport Politics: Wembley happy plans meet terms of Lottery grant

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The Independent Online
WEMBLEY'S OWNERS said yesterday that they had no intention of handing back the pounds 120m Lottery grant they have been awarded to build a new national stadium, even though the Sports Minister, Kate Hoey, is unhappy with the designs for the pounds 475m venue.

Hoey has said that the proposed stadium does not meet Olympic requirements - a condition of the Lottery grant - because it will cost pounds 20m and take six months to convert every time it is needed for a major athletics event.

She thus commissioned an independent report into the feasibility of the project and, having received the report yesterday, is expected to announce its findings later this week - and possibly demand changes that will delay the venture. Altering the designs to accommodate all the requirements on a permanent basis would cost an estimated pounds 55m extra.

Wembley's owners were not perturbed by the situation yesterday and defended their right to build the stadium as they have planned, primarily for football, with pounds 120m of public money.

"We've got a contract with Sport England, who administered the grant to build the new stadium, and they seem happy that we are fulfilling that contract," a Wembley spokesman said yesterday. "We'd be very aggrieved if they tried to break it and I'm sure they'd be aggrieved if we tried to break it. We've exceeded our brief."

The spokesman added that the new Wembley will be suitable for an Olympic Games, if and when necessary, and said it was not designed to be like that on a permanent basis because installing a permanent athletics track would mean seating football fans further from the action than was necessary.

"We could keep quangos and politicians happy [and build an athletics track] if we said `screw the football supporter', but we're not prepared to do that," the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the Sports Minister yesterday played down suggestions that the problems over the new stadium would damage England's bid to stage the 2006 World Cup. "That kind of speculation is a red herring," he said, adding that the 2006 bid team were unconcerned about the situation.

Insiders on the 2006 bid team said they were confident that the Sports Minister would not be able to disrupt the current plans for Wembley.

"The Government is powerfully behind the bid and Kate cannot be seen as the person who killed it off," one source said. "We're sure this will all be sorted out, if not this week, then early in the new year."