HC Deb 22 November 1999 vol 339 cc332-4
7. Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

What assistance his Department is giving to the project for the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium. [98973]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

Lottery funding of £120 million has been awarded by Sport England towards the purchase of the existing Wembley stadium from Wembley plc, and its reconstruction as a national stadium for football, rugby league and athletics. I have established a monitoring committee involving all the key players to allow us to identify and deal with issues arising, which demonstrates the Government's commitment to the project. I have every confidence that the new Wembley stadium will provide a first-class venue for a number of different sports and events.

Mr. Greenway

It has been suggested that the Minister for Sport's comments last week about the Olympics and athletics implied that her predecessor had put too much emphasis on football. However, the Secretary of State supported the Wembley redevelopment. More importantly, so did the Prime Minister, whose picture appears on the front cover of the world cup 2006 brochure with a redeveloped Wembley in the background. Does the Secretary of State accept that if the Government wish to will the end, taking credit for England hosting the world cup in 2006, as we all wish it to do, they must also will the means? Huge outstanding planning and transport issues remain unresolved with Brent council, and those must be tackled. Will the Secretary of State put his Department's full resources into ensuring a successful outcome to the bid? The last thing we want is a successful world cup soccer launch that is hampered as the rugby world cup was by a stadium having to be painted on the day before the first match.

Mr. Smith

When I saw the rugby world cup at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff, everyone agreed that it is a fantastic stadium which provided a magnificent venue for the world cup. Exactly the same quality will be achieved both for the world athletics championship in 2005 and the football world cup in 2006. The Government will bend every effort to ensuring that that happens. However, we cannot, and should not, ride roughshod over the planning system. Proper rules are in place, and the necessary planning procedures will be undertaken.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Does my right hon. Friend share my incredulity that Sport England allowed the release of £120 million of lottery funding for Wembley to purchase the site of the new national stadium, when it must have been known that the proposed stadium could not function as a truly national stadium for the three sports for which it was intended—especially for athletics—not only because of the size of the stadium but because, under Olympic and international regulations, a warm-up facility must be provided alongside? Will he assure us that the trust that was supposed to be the guardian of the project and of the national stadium will—as the previous Sports Minister assured me in the House—ensure that the project also functions for athletics? Will he further ensure that the Football Association pulls its finger out to get the project, which it has delayed by more than 18 months, back on to the drawing board and on target?

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has played a major role, as the local constituency Member of Parliament, in promoting the Wembley project. He raises a number of entirely legitimate concerns. However, I assure him that, right from the start, our concern—like that of Sport England—has been to ensure that the stadium can be used not only for football and rugby league, but for major athletics events. Through the establishment of the Wembley task force under the chairmanship of Sir Nigel Mobbs, with the involvement of Brent Council and English Partnerships, we shall also ensure not only that the stadium is created in the right way, but that the surrounding area is treated in the right way.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), to the Treasury Bench? I am, however, delighted that the Secretary of State is answering this question, because, although the blame for this fiasco seems to be being shifted to the hon. Lady's predecessor, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), the Secretary of State was present throughout all the proceedings. There is now a real possibility that we shall have a national stadium that cannot host the Olympic games.

Was it helpful for the Sports Minister to wait until after the planning application was lodged before saying that it was the wrong kind of stadium"? What conditions in respect of Olympic-standard facilities were attached to the £120 million lottery grant? Who was responsible for authorising the brief that turned out to be the wrong kind of brief? If the Government are not responsible, and are not to blame, for the breathtaking and pitiful bungling of this major project, we should like to know who is.

Mr. Smith

Apart from misquoting my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, the hon. Gentleman, by that question, does the cause of creating a truly national stadium no good whatever. The aim throughout has been to ensure that we have a first-class, world-class national stadium for football, rugby league and athletics. As he will know, from parliamentary answers, the design for the new stadium was first shown to Ministers in the middle of July this year. As a direct result, I called a further meeting on 21 July with Wembley National Stadium Ltd., the chief architect and Sport England, to ensure that the interests of athletics were intimately involved in the further development of the designs for the stadium.