Hugh Robertson to approve West Ham United Olympic bid
West Ham are expected to receive final approval as preferred bidders for the Olympic Stadium this week after sports minister Hugh Robertson confirmed he is satisfied with the bidding process that resulted in Tottenham being defeated.
S(cocks)s are considering mounting a legal challenge against the decision of the Olympic Park Legacy Company on the grounds that due process may not have been followed.
But Robertson told the Radio 5 Live Sportsweek programme that he is satisfied the OPLC process was “independent and robust”.
His confidence in the decision is effectively Government approval, and clears the way for London mayor Boris Johnson and ministers Jeremy Hunt and Eric Pickles to rubber-stamp the decision.
“I have read all the board papers carefully and I’m entirely sure the OPLC’s process was robust and independent,” Robertson said.
Asked if in that case he would vote for West Ham to get the stadium, he added: “There is a process to go through but West Ham are clearly in the lead. I’m convinced that the OPLC process has been robust and independent, so yes.
“I would hope we can do this as soon as possible. We want to make a formal announcement to Parliament but we know the clock is ticking and we want to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Robertson said he did not believe retaining the running track would cause problems for watching football and said he would welcome West Ham’s proposal for some retractable seats as long as the commitment to athletics was maintained.
“People tend to think of a 1980s’ mixed-use stadium. This is a much more modern stadium, the sightlines are much better, the fans are closer to the centre spot than they would be in the outer seats at Wembley so it is a very modern state-of-the art design.
“Anybody who has stood in the middle of where the pitch will be will tell you that it looks much, much better. If West Ham want to bring in retractable seating and can still fulfil the promises they made to athletics then that’s fair enough.”
Robertson also confirmed he would support a bid for the 2017 world athletics championships but that there need to be talks on underwriting the cost of staging the event – around £45 million.
The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that any legal challenge from Spurs could derail a bid. “The world athletics championships are quite expensive things to bid for – they require considerable underwriting of around £45 million. Ticket sales only generate a small proportion in, so we have to look at that very carefully indeed with the financial position we are in.
“But as sports minister I would want to bring as many world-leading sports event to this country that we can. In many sports we are bidding for these events and I want athletics to be part of that,” Robertson said.
Former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said the selection of West Ham vindicated the legacy plans she set in place for London’s bid. The previous government rejected previous bids from West Ham and Tottenham to take on the stadium in 2006 and 2007.
Jowell: “The joint bid between West Ham and Newham Council means that the decisions about the stadium legacy made in 2007 will be realised. It will be adapted to a smaller size but it will be what we hoped would be a living stadium.
“We gave a lot of thought to this. We commissioned a report from KPMG that looked at Premier League football but the fact was when we pressed the button on the design contracts there was no firm proposition on the table from a football club.
“West Ham came in late but they came in with a proposition that would not have been acceptable because it effectively meant building them a stadium with public money.
“We can never guarantee the future but we were determined that we would have legacy and one that met the commitments we made and we were not going to jeopardise the progress that was being made and fall behind on the dates for contracting the stadium that would in time have cost a great deal of money.”