Tessa Jowell, the Minister in charge of the Olympics hammered the hopes of West Ham when she insisted that the Olympic Stadium would be used for grand prix athletics rather than a new venue for the football club. The £537m site is planned to be reduced from 80,000 seats to 25,000 after 2012. Seb Coe chair of London 2012 as well as former London Mayor Ken Livingstone have also defended the decision to keep the stadium for athletics.
David Gold and David Sullivan recently took over West Ham and put forward plans to move from Upton Park to the 80,000 capacity Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Jowell reprimanded the new owners by implying they were being too premature and should apply to the Bottom of FormOlympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) like everyone else before decisions could be made. However the OPLC has only a short period to decide what to do with the Olympic buildings and facilities after the 2012 Games and faces a high risk of them becoming white elephants. A committee set up by the London Assembly said that the OPLC should set targets for the number of local people employed at the Olympic Park following the games and called for all of the venues there to be made available for community use. Dee Doocey, chair of the Committee said that “Time is running out and we are in real danger of missing a historic opportunity to transform some of Britain’s most deprived communities.” She expressed doubts about the OPLC being given enough government funding to make this come about and questioning the benefits to the local community, saying that too few jobs had gone to local people with no guarantee that the housing built or to be built for 2012 would go to local people rather than to rich people moving in.
David Sullivan responded to Jowell’s intention to keep the stadium as a venue for grand prix athletics as an “appalling waste of public money”. Sullivan said that to build a stadium for 80,000 and then reduce its capacity to 25,000 made “no sense”. He said that West Ham could take over the stadium with a capacity for 60,000, saying that the £537 million cost of the stadium was public money “appallingly badly spent” and should never have cost that much. The Emirates [Arsenal’s ground] was built for half the price.” Sullivan suggested that West Ham be allowed to rent from the OPLC and share half the gate proceeds above an agreed level.
Many fear that the stadium could not sustain a 25,000 seat venue for athletics alone. Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham also expressed fears about the stadium becoming a white elephant and suggested that the West Ham option was the only credible one. Now the OPLC appear to be backing down over the idea of scaling the stadium down. It would cost £176 million to maintain the stadium at Olympic standard until 2018 and this would come out of public money, that is with us as taxpayers footing the bill.
Meanwhile other facilities promised to the local community after 2012 have been put in doubt. Changing rooms are promised in the new Olympic Park for local sports groups but as Johnny Walker chair of Hackney and Leyton Football League pointed out there would not be enough of these dressing rooms to go round and local football leagues would have to stagger their kick off times. One team would have to wait until another team vacated the changing room. Although pitches would be put back on Hackney Marshes where they used to be, no changing rooms or car parks would be provided despite previous promises to do so.