WEST HAM’S bid to move into the Olympic Stadium was plunged into controversy last night after questions were raised over a £40m loan being arranged by Newham Council.
The loan would be at a preferential rate and would provide the cash-strapped club with vital funds for redeveloping the venue, if it is chosen ahead of rival bidders Tottenham Hotspur next week.
Newham councillors last night voted in favour of arranging the loan – but only after criticism emerged over the transparency of the terms and Mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales was accused of being too close to West Ham.
The episode threatens to dent West Ham’s case as both clubs prepare to hand in final bid submissions to the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) today. A decision is expected next Friday.
Newham Council was criticised for not disclosing whether it would be liable for the loan if West Ham, who are already around £100m in debt and stand to suffer hugely if relegated, default.
Confirming the vote result, council chief executive Kim Bromley-Derry said: “We are unable to comment on financial aspects of the Newham Council and West Ham bid for the Olympic Stadium because of a confidentiality agreement with the OPLC. However our proposal offers a strong financial package with no further call on the public purse.”
The mayor (inset left), who holds a season ticket at West Ham, declared 35 gifts from the club over the last three years, mainly of hospitality.
A spokesman for Newham Council said the mayor had been transparent in his declaration, paid for his season ticket himself and did not vote last night because of a potential conflict of interest.
Mike Law, a former Labour councillor in Newham who defected to the Conservatives, said: “Elected members taking gifts from local companies then lending them money is just wrong.”
The controversy came on a day of fresh twists in the fierce battle to move onto the Olympic site, with Crystal Palace emerging as a third-party threat to Spurs’ proposals by revealing stadium plans of their own.
Spurs’ proposals include revamping the dilapidated National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace park, as a means of delivering the required athletics legacy that they will forego in Stratford by demolishing and rebuilding the Olympic Stadium without a running track.
But Championship outfit Palace also want to redevelop the south London site and build a new £50m, 40,000-seater ground (pictured in box to right). The plans include only a regional standard athletics venue, meaning they rely on a world-class track and field facility being retained at the Olympic Stadium, as West Ham have pledged to do.
If Tottenham win, Palace are willing to join forces with Spurs and build a dual-purpose stadium at Crystal Palace. But Spurs are understood to have little appetite for exploring that avenue as their Olympic ambitions enter a crucial seven days.
The head of world athletics, Lamine Diack, last night waded into the row with a strongly-worded statement saying Britain would be guilty of “a big lie” if it went back on its key promise to deliver a legacy at the Olympic site.
West Ham’s plans have the backing of the athletics world, while the club’s East End roots allow it to argue it has a local claim to the venue. Tottenham has a strong economic case for winning the bid battle, with greater demand for tickets and participation in the lucrative Champions League, as well as the backing of AEG, the entertainment giant which runs the O2.