Hammers eye Olympic tenancy

Sports minister Hugh Robertson has confirmed the deal with the

Hammers and Newham Council has collapsed. Legal challenges by

Tottenham and Leyton Orient, plus an anonymous complaint to the

European Commission, have led to fears that court action could drag

on for years while the stadium remains empty. The stadium will now

remain in public ownership and leased out to an anchor tenant

following a new tender process by the Olympic Park Legacy Company

(OPLC). West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady has confirmed the club

will bid again to become tenants at the stadium. Robertson said:

“The key point is the action we have taken today is about removing

the uncertainty. The process had become bogged down in legal

paralysis. “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.” Some £35million already earmarked under the

Olympic Budget will be used to transform the stadium after the

Games. Prospective tenants will then be asked to bid for the

stadium with the running track remaining in place. Robertson added:

“This is not a white elephant stadium where no one wants it, we

have had two big clubs fighting tooth and nail to get it. “The new

process will be more like how Manchester City took over the

Commonwealth Games stadium which is regarded as a leading example

of how to do it.” The tenants would pay an annual rent to the OPLC

which should actually prove to be less costly for the likes of West

Ham. The move will also remove uncertainty over the stadium ahead

of London’s bid for the 2017 world athletics championships,

although that was not a major consideration in the decision to

abandon the current deal. The Government, the London Mayor’s office

and the OPLC have moved to scrap the current deal as there were

fears the legal challenges could take years to come to a

conclusion. It is understood that no contract has been signed with

West Ham, allowing the move to a fresh tender process, but the club

will be encouraged to bid again. A joint statement by Brady and Kim

Bromley-Derry, Newham chief executive, said they welcomed the move.

The statement said: “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. “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.” UK

Athletics chairman Ed Warner welcomed the move. “It’s fantastic for

UK Athletics and it is a bold and decisive move by the legacy

company,” Warner told BBC Radio Five Live. Warner also predicted

that the decision would help London’s bid for the 2017 World

Athletics Championships. “We had a meeting with the IAAF inspectors

last week and we gave Government guarantees that the athletics

track will stay in place. “The move you see today is simply

confirmation of what we told the IAAF. “The IAAF were concerned

when they arrived but when they left they told us that the issue

was completely resolved. We laid out the legal options and they

went away happy. “I’m very hopeful that we will get the nod for

2017.” London mayor Boris Johnson insisted the stadium would not

become a burden to the taxpayer. He said: “I am confident that this

decision is the best way to ensure we have certainty over the

stadium’s future. “I believe it will also put us in the place where

we always intended to be – delivering a lasting sustainable legacy

for the stadium backed up by a robust but flexible business plan

that provides a very good return to the taxpayer.” Leyton Orient

chairman Barry Hearn welcomed the news and confirmed his club would

look to be a tenant when the new tender process opens. He was

keeping his options open regarding the possibility of a

groundshare, and believes the OPLC’s decision should mean the

debate over exactly how the stadium will look in the future is

reopened. “Today is a fabulous day for Leyton Orient fans,” he told

Sky Sports News. “It puts the whole thing back in the public domain

as it should be. The system of deliverance was fundamentally flawed

and now they have got to go back to the beginning and start again

and we will be an interested party in that bidding process. “West

Ham are not a shoo-in, that’s very good because they will be

competing with a host of other people who have claims on and plans

for the Olympic Stadium. It’s a legacy operation and at last the

OPLC have finally listened to someone with common sense and said

‘we messed it up before, let’s not mess it up again’. The whole

process starts now. “I can tell you that I am definitely interested

in being part of the tender process. If that involves groundshare,

we will have to look at the situation and see if it makes sense for

everyone. “But we are a small club and we would be lost in a

60,000-seater. Perhaps it makes more sense to go back to the

original plan for 25,000 seats which is fine for athletics –

perhaps it makes more sense to spend less money on conversion costs

and actually get a proper, community-spirited club in there which

fits the ethos of what we’re talking about, the Olympic Games. “The

expert advice that we got on European law and on state aid showed

that the Newham loan was illegal, which we said from day one. No

one listened to us at all, they just thought we were little Leyton

Orient, just go away and return to the wilderness of the east end

of London.”