(WFI) Despite the collapse of a deal to award West Ham the Olympic Stadium after London 2012, the club’s vice-chairman Karren Brady says they are still keen to move to the venue.
The Olympic Park Legacy Company today announced that negotiations with the club, unveiled as the preferred stadium bidder in February, had ended because of growing concerns over delays caused by the ongoing legal dispute with rival club Tottenham Hotspur.
West Ham had not signed any contracts, allowing the OPLC to abandon talks with the club over the stadium move. The stadium, which cost an estimated $760 million, will now remain in public ownership and leased out to an anchor tenant following a new tender process.
West Ham’s Brady released a joint statement with the London borough of Newham ahead of a statement from the government’s department for culture, media and sport which will more fully explain the reasons for the OPLC’s decision.
“Uncertainty caused by the anonymous complaint to the European Commission and ongoing legal challenges have put the Olympic legacy at risk and certainly a stadium, as we envisioned it, may not be in place by 2014 due as a direct result of the legal delay,” Brady said.
“Therefore we would welcome a move by OPLC and government to end that uncertainty and allow a football and athletics stadium to be in place by 2014 under a new process.
“If the speculation is true, West Ham will look to become a tenant of the stadium while Newham will aim to help deliver the legacy.
“Our bid is the only one that will secure the sporting and community legacy promise of the Olympic Stadium – an amazing year-round home for football, athletics and community events of which the nation could be proud.”
Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient are opposed
to the OPLC’s decision to hand the stadium to West Ham; a judicial review was scheduled for the High Court next Tuesday. Their opposition mainly revolves around West Ham’s plans to use a $63 million loan from Newham Council to finance the stadium move.
An anonymous complaint to European Commission over what effectively amounts to state aid raised fears the legal challenges could drag on leaving the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium as a white elephant.
Britain’s sports and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson confirmed the collapse of the OPLC agreement with West Ham in comments to PA Sport.
“The key point is the action we have taken today is about removing the uncertainty. The process had become bogged down in legal paralysis,” he said.
“Particularly relevant has been the anonymous complaint to the EC over ‘state aid’ and the OPLC received a letter from Newham Council yesterday saying because of the uncertainty they no longer wanted to proceed. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and we thought it better to stop it dead in it tracks now.
“We know there is huge interest in the stadium out there from private operators and football clubs and crucially we remove any uncertainty.”
The BBC broke today’s story about the collapse of the legacy company’s deal with West Ham. It said the government had now allocated a fund of around $78 million of public money to downsize the venue to 60,000 seats post-Games, allowing it to be used for both Premier League football and major athletics events.
Under its original plans to reconfigure the stadium after the Olympics, West Ham had planned to reduce the capacity to 60,000, retain the track and turn it into a multipurpose venue.
After relegation from the top-flight of english football last season, the terms of a new arrangement would put less pressure on West Ham’s finances. The stadium could cost as little as $3 million a year to lease.
But a fresh Hammers bid for the stadium is likely to trigger significant concerns among West Ham fans, who will argue that they should not be moving to a new stadium they cannot call their own.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
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