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The Aftermath - of the London2012 stadium

After putting up heroic resistance in the public interest the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) finally gave in and published the details of the contract with West Ham for the London Olympics stadium after being ordered to do so by the Information Tribunal. However, a search of the LLDC website for the contract produces 'no result' and does not provide any trace of the document and nor is it mentioned under 'News' or 'Press Releases'. The full agreement can be found here. Interestingly the details of the contract had not been pursued by any public authority or by GLA Assembly Members, by the European Union or even by rival football clubs like Tottenham Hotspur or Leyton Orient but by Supporters groups from fourteen different clubs. Apparently Boris Johnson had said he would be happy for the contract to be published. If so it is hard to understand why he didn't push for this to happen, as the LLDC is very much his baby, rather than allow it to spend over £21,000 fighting the case.

The BBC outlined the details. The final cost of the stadium is £701million with the cost of conversion £272million, up from the original estimate of £160million. West Ham's contribution to this refit was £15million. [As an indication of how bad this deal is it has to be recalled that West Ham's previous owner Eggert Magnusson offered £100million to take over the Olympic stadium! He was prepared to guarantee an athletics legacy as well] It will pay £2.5million rent per year with a scale of charges depending on the club's footballing success or failure. However, it will not pay for a variety of services like security, undersoil heating, floodlighting, cleaning which are worth up to another £2.5million.

The BBC claims the stadium will be a multi-use venue. It is hard to see the point of this statement. It is a 'multi-use' venue because of the enormous amount of money spent on converting it to accommodate athletics and football! However, if a two month window for, in all probability, one major athletics event a year qualifies it as a multi-use venue then this is a strange understanding of multi-use. The fact that music events will also be hosted is hardly unusual for stadiums of this type, many football clubs host such events without this kind of expenditure.

However, in this article the BBC fails to mention the £40million loaned by Newham to West Ham as part of the deal although back in 2011 it reported on concerns in Newham and among some Newham councillors that the deal had little to offer the community and highlighted the control exercised by Newham's Mayor, Robin Wales, who is able to use political patronage to silence opposition in a borough without any non-Labour councillors. The BBC reported:

One serving councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "A significant number of councillors have reservations.
"There are massive doubts over supposed community benefits."
The councillor continued: "Why are we arranging a loan for a private company? West Ham should go to a bank like everybody else.
Councillors are afraid to speak out. This rings alarm bells.
Anita Shields, Independent auditor
"The financial football model is hardly blessed by success."
But not one serving politician will go on the record.
The councillor said: "The problem is the mayoral system.
"People are frightened to go against the mayor. They are frightened of a lack of patronage.
"He's had almost the same executive since 2000 - on £40,000 each. People want a bit of the action."

This earlier article also questioned the close ties between the football club, the Mayor and some councillors and the way the decision to provide the loan was reached. It referred to the high number of gifts Mayor Robin Wales had received from West Ham and how these compared with gifts to Council leaders in other boroughs with football clubs. Another thirteen councillors had to leave the debate because they had received gifts from the club. In addition, documents were not disclosed until the last moment or were only available for inspection at council offices.

Astonishingly, when considering the possibility of West Ham's owners selling up the BBC provided some sentimental reasons as to why the pornographers and property developers might choose not to do so by saying Sullivan's and Gold's children are keen West Ham fans! If this is what passes for BBC financial analysis then these reporters should never be let near any kind of financial dealings.

This latest BBC article also trod softly on the issue of West Ham's property dealings:

West Ham have contributed £15m to the transformation, although that is offset by the sale of the Boleyn Ground to developers the Galliard Group, which plans to build new homes on the Upton Park site as well as retail and leisure facilities.

'Contributed' and 'offset' are truly weasel words to explain away the property development aspect of this business, suggesting West Ham is really doing everyone a favour. The BBC produces no figures to show that the sale of the Boleyn ground was for a price of around £15 million. If it was and West Ham were indeed offsetting this cost you might expect the club to trumpet it around to show how this deal was simply designed to benefit the community and no property killing was involved. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The sale of the Boleyn ground was the whole point of the move to the Olympic stadium. The sale provides a substantial payoff while if the club had not been able to move to the Olympic stadium it would have had to either acquire a new site with all the costs of doing that or redevelop the Green Street site while still in occupation, a horrible prospect. Instead they end up with a subsidised stadium handed to them on a plate by a grateful LLDC and a considerable profit on their old ground.

According to the Standard:

No financial details have been disclosed but it is believed that the club will raise less than the £71.2 million that the 35,016 all-seater stadium is valued at in its accounts.

So no disclosure but a figure possibly approaching £70 million. Given that the only hard information is this valuation of the land at around £70million the assertion that the deal may have fallen below that figure is simply speculation. It may also have been higher. Either way the figures mentioned greatly exceed £15million. Hardly 'offsetting' the cost.

The article continued:

However, fully developed the site will eventually be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

No details are available of what interest West Ham might still have in the future development so that figure of up to £70 million, if it includes some residual interest in the development, could be considerably greater.

Of course, all of this received the usual Legacy accolades of homes and jobs for the community. Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, said:

“We have always maintained that West Ham United’s relocation to Stratford had the potential to deliver an Olympic Legacy beyond Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a key part of the comprehensive regeneration of Green Street and Upton Park. The prospect of much needed homes, jobs and community spaces for this area is an exciting one.”

However, illustrating the true intentions of the owners was the the initial proposal for the redevelopment. These first plans for the Boleyn site, allegedly designed to bring Legacy benefits to the community, included no social housing at all and just 6% 'affordable housing'. Deceitfully, when the deal was first announced West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady said:

"We opted to reach an agreement with Galliard because they are a local London developer and employer with origins in east London.

"We know they are committed to working closely with the local community and Newham council on proposals to transform the site into a residential and retail village, which will benefit the local community and east London's regional economy."

Of course, Galliard have no such reputation and it was only after fierce local opposition that these plans were altered to provide a minimum of 25% 'affordable housing', although how affordable this will be is anyone's guess. It has to be recalled that the original now long forgotten housing Legacy claim was 50% affordable housing.

This argument over 'affordable housing' is acute in Newham where one in four families live in overcrowded properties and which in 2015 had over 16,000 households on its housing waiting list.

The BBC also falls into line on the lack of available alternatives. The original ambition of the stadium being an athletics facility is given barely a nod as though there had never been any serious thought given to this possibility. In fact, correctly or incorrectly, it had been decided from the start not to consider letting the stadium to a football club. The emphasis was to be on athletics with Tessa Jowell declaring:

"We don't need another football stadium, we have got Wembley. We made a very clear commitment in the bid book that the Olympic Stadium in legacy will be a 20- to 25,000-seater athletics stadium with the provision for a warm-up track so that London and indeed the UK will have a grand prix athletics stadium."

This was to be run by the English Institute of Sport and the National Skills Academy for Sport and Leisure. Tony Blair had backed this Legacy vision in 2009:

"I think the important thing is to use it as a galvaniser for grass-roots sport. That's to me what will make the difference."

But as nerves set in over future funding this bold, genuine sporting legacy was abandoned for a football club. In fact, it could just as well have been argued that the enormous amount of money spent on converting the stadium could have been banked and kept to fund a genuine athletics facility. But now TINA rules again. There is no alternative to football.

The BBC tries to suggest the EU investigated the deal under State Aid rules when it says:

Hearn has long suggested that West Ham are effectively benefiting from state aid, and this could breach European Commission rules.

However, the commission found no basis to investigate further when a complaint along those lines was made last year.

In fact there was no investigation as no-one with an interest complained, including Barry Hearn, who apparently thought the deal contravened these rules. The Supporters' Groups and the Saboteurchitect, Steve Lawrence, did not count as interested parties as this response from the EU made plain:

We have not received any complaint from an interested party in the meaning of our state aid rules concerning the London Olympic Stadium. The information the Commission services have received until now from different sources thus qualifies as market information on which the Commission may decide to act or not. This explains why no Commission decision can be found on this case.

The BBC simply dismisses the offer from Tottenham Hotspur to provide a full time athletics stadium at Crystal Palace as a negotiating tactic to squeeze more support for their plans to develop White Hart Lane. Why this should be so easily dismissed is not explained. Tottenham went to the extreme of taking its case to judicial review and continued to appeal after its case was initially turned down. The fact that it was also negotiating with Boris Johnson and Haringey over White Hart Lane does not invalidate its offer over the stadium. All the authorities had to do was to put the offer to the test to discover whether Tottenham was serious. The offer of a full time athletics stadium as opposed to the two months big event window provided by the West Ham deal would have meant a real athletics legacy rather than the half baked option now left over.

However, the BBC also fails to examine the sporting politics of the deal cooked up with West Ham. As Tessa Jowell had stated London had promised an athletics legacy from the stadium. And one person's future rested on the delivery of this 'legacy', namely Seb Coe Ltd. One person Coe could definitely not afford to offend was the now discgraced IAAF President Lamine Diack who made it plain that he backed the West Ham bid and who had indicated his support for Coe. Coe was an ardent admirer of Diack saying of him:

"He will always be our spiritual president and he will certainly be my spiritual president."

Coe was not averse to bashing opponents among UK sports politicians as he had demonstrated in his battles on the London2012 Board and later after taking over at the British Olympic Association in November 2012. Coe's ambitions were endorsed at government level with British embassies ordered to lobby on his behalf and by UK sports bodies with UKSport forking out £63,000 to fund his bid. The nomination of a 'preferred bidder' for the stadium was always a political and personal matter bound up with the ambition of Coe to be IAAF President and the decision was taken at a time when his influence was at its height.

So instead of a real athletics legacy London and the UK are left with a two month part time window for elite events with no community benefits of any kind from the stadium while Crystal Palace has been left to slowly disintegrate and face possible demolition. Extraordinarily one of those most closely associated with this proposed demolition of such an important athletics facility is none other than former London Olympics supremo Seb Coe. For among Coe's other interests is his involvement with Chime Communications to whom he had sold his 'management consultancy' Complete Leisure Group Limited. The Chime group was now promoting the destruction with Coe raking in a salary of £2million per annum. In the case of Crystal Palace local athletics clubs have a place in the running and use of the stadium. It serves a real community purpose. As Christine Ohoruogu put it:

“It was not just a track, it was a place where athletes – local and international, elite and club, juniors, seniors, masters and everything else in between – competed, watched, cheered, supported. It is a track holding a myriad of memories for those fortunate enough to be at the National Sports Centre. Grassroots to champions, that is Crystal Palace athletics track.”

The E20 Stadium, by contrast, in terms of athletics, will have no local athletics presence and will only host elite athletics spectaculars, athletics as spectacle not athletics as participation, so like the London Olympics themselves and so contrary to everything their legacy was supposed to be.

Indeed what could be more symbolic of the London Olympics sporting Legacy than the head of LOCOG making money out of trying to demolish the UK's principal, well loved and well used, full time and grassroots athletics venue?

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