WEST HAM will not be able to scrap the running track once they have moved into the Olympic Stadium, despite concerns being raised over its effect on sight lines and atmosphere.
Baroness Ford, chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which controls the future of the stadium, and sports minister Hugh Robertson both pledged yesterday that the football club would be left with no wriggle-room for the 125-year duration of the lease.
“The key condition of the lease – and this has been made clear from the very start of this competition – is that an athletics track is maintained within the stadium. If it’s not maintained the lease is broken,” she said.
“So the football tenant that comes in has accepted, and is keen and enthusiastic to accept, that a key component of having that lease is that an athletics track will be maintained for the perpetuity of that lease, which is 125 years. So there is no question that this will be a mixed-use stadium. End of story.”
Concerns have been aired that the track will enforce a distance between seats and pitch that could adversely affect football spectators, and have a knock-on effect on the ground’s atmosphere.
But asked if there would be any room for West Ham to renegotiate, Baroness Ford said: “No. We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure this was absolutely cast-iron.”
Robertson, who has urged Tottenham to drop their legal challenge to West Ham’s selection as preferred tenants on the grounds that it is “completely pointless”, reiterated the long-term commitment to the track.
He added: “That’s another reason why this Tottenham argument is a little bit superfluous, because once they’ve signed the lease, there’s a 125-year guarantee that the track will remain in place.”
The High Court will hear Tottenham’s claim for a judicial review of the selection of West Ham as tenants on 17 October. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has offered Spurs, who wanted to scrap the track should they move to Stratford, a £17m public funding package if they drop their case and revive plans to build a new stadium near their current home, White Hart Lane.
Even if Tottenham win in court, West Ham could move in without a re-tendering process, Baroness Ford added. She said: “In the unlikely event the finding went in Tottenham’s favour we have a number of courses of action we could take, all of which could be expedited and might not necessitate a re-tender. We would get to a good end point relatively quickly, whcih has athletics at its core.”
West Ham have always supported keeping the track as part of a multi-use stadium. It is understood they are still considering installing retractable seating over the track, in order to cut the distance from crowd to pitch.
KEY PLAYERS | WHAT THEY WANT
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has offered Tottenham a £17m package of public money if they drop their legal challenge for the Olympic Stadium and commit to building a new ground near their current home instead. Johnson was keen for the matter to be resolved before the visit of world athletics chiefs this weekend, to examine London’s case for hosting the 2017 world championships. With just over a month until the 11 November vote, it remains in limbo.
Tottenham may have lost the bidding war for the Olympic Stadium but they are not done yet. Their legal challenge to the decision to name West Ham as preferred bidders will be heard in the High Court later this month, on 17 October, and in the meantime their persistence has gained them leverage in their wrangle for greater financial assistance in building a new stadium in north London. They are yet to accept a £17m package offered last week by Boris Johnson.
West Ham won the bid battle back in February and have long been keen to finalise their plans to move into the Olympic Stadium and carry out a £95m renovation. Crucially, they have committed to keeping the running track and sharing the stadium with UK Athletics, as well as a number of other potential sports, such as cricket and American Football. Whatever happens in the High Court, they look sure to be the stadium’s tenants.