HL Deb 20 May 2002 vol 635 cc511-3

2.41 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In asking this Question, I should make it clear that I am not speaking for the Front Bench on this topic.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government where they consider that the national stadium should be sited.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the location of the national stadium is a matter for the Football Association as the project sponsor and provider of risk capital. As I explained to the House on 7th May, the FA has made substantial progress in addressing the four conditions which I outlined to the House on 19th December. I shall make a further statement to the House on the national stadium project later this week.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, is it not the case that the plans for a national stadium capable of holding an Olympic Games have been all but abandoned? Does not the Minister agree that the £120 million of lottery money paid to the FA should be returned forthwith?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the abandonment of athletics has not taken place. The noble Lord may be aware that a Sport England report was published last Wednesday, as I informed the House last week would happen. The report makes absolutely clear that it would be possible to build a new national stadium primarily for football and rugby league but with the opportunity to include athletics at far less cost than originally anticipated.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, as I understand it, at least two separate sets of financial negotiations remain to be completed on the funding of the ridiculously over–priced Wembley proposal. Given that, will my noble friend renew the assurance that if Wembley has still—after six years—not got its act together by the end of this month, the proposal to site the national stadium at Birmingham, Solihull, which is supported by seven out of every 10 fans and 53 out of 56 club chairmen, will seriously be taken forward?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my noble friend thinks that a ridiculously expensive stadium is proposed for Wembley. I dispute that. For £161 million of public money, we should get a state–of–the–art stadium at Wembley. However, I reiterate, as I have done on a number of occasions to my noble friend, that the decision about where to locate the stadium is a matter for the Football Association. It will pay the vast majority of the costs. I also make clear to my noble friend and the House that should a deal at Wembley fail, significant work would be required to make the Birmingham bid practicable. As Patrick Carter's report made absolutely clear, the Birmingham proposals currently have to address a funding gap of between £43 million and £163 million. Moreover, the selected location is on a greenfield site in the green belt around Birmingham. Planning issues are therefore also involved.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, can the Minister help the House on the question of access by customers to Wembley should that site be chosen? If the proposed stadium were to be erected today, the current transport links—both road and rail—would clearly be inadequate. What does she understand are the plans to improve those links? At what rate does the speed at which customers are admitted to the stadium need to be increased? Can she also add a word on costs?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government have already committed themselves to an extra £20 million of infrastructure expenditure to improve transport links. A further £21 million has been promised by the GLA. Brent Council has already cleared planning permission for improvements at the Tube station at Wembley. I believe that the facilities will be adequate to cope with the numbers of people going there.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, will the Minister say more about the athletics track, which interests us in view of the £120 million from Sport England? How long will it take to install and remove the track on each occasion, at what cost, and who will pay for that?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the cost of installing and removing the track will be £8.5 million, which is substantially less than originally anticipated. It will take around 17 weeks, which is again substantially less than originally proposed. The earlier estimate was between 42 and 52 weeks. That would make it possible to stage major international athletics events at the new national stadium.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, on the assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about the £120 million paid by Sport England for a national stadium, will the Minister confirm that that was not for an Olympic stadium but for a national football and rugby stadium that was capable of accepting the World Athletics Championships, which is an entirely different proposition? If the Football Association can comply with the four conditions that the Government have laid down, many of us on these Benches do not support the Birmingham proposal but believe that Wembley is the right choice.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I can confirm my noble friend's comments on an Olympic stadium. It is for the British Olympic Association and the Mayor of London to decide whether they wish to bid for the Olympic Games. I understand that thought and consideration are being given to that by the BOA and the mayor. However, the mayor has indicated that he wants an Olympic stadium to be built in the east of London, with facilities for a range of sports, including swimming, which would not be available at Wembley.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, bearing in mind that the Dome was good enough for the celebration of the millennium, why would it not be good enough for a national stadium? It is, after all, in the east of London.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Dome is not capable of housing the necessary facilities for a national football stadium or athletics events.

Lord Elton

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that it will cost £8 million every time the stadium is converted for athletics and that it will take 17 weeks on each occasion? Will the stadium be usable during those 17 weeks and, if so, for what?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, when national stadia of this sort are built and used for different purposes, it always takes a substantial length of time to convert them. While the conversion is taking place, it will not be possible, so far as I understand it—I shall write to the noble Lord— to use it for other events. That is exactly what happens in stadia around the world that are used for football and athletics.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, does the Minister agree that almost every football supporter who goes to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff recognises what a wonderful structure it is? It would be good for this country if we simply replicated the Cardiff design, put it on the Wembley site and got on with it.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I believe that everyone involved in building the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff should be congratulated on the success of the project.