Lawrence slams stadium plans
Architect behind the anonymous European Commission complaint calls for an urgent review of the Olympic legacy
By Lia Hervey. Last Updated: 16/02/12 2:58pm
Olympic Stadium: Legacy plans slammed
The architect who masterminded the original Olympic plan has called for an urgent review of the stadium legacy plans.
After a Sky Sports News investigation, Steve Lawrence admitted that he is the man behind the anonymous complaint to the EU Commission, which the government blamed on the collapsing of the stadium legacy deal with West Ham FC.
Steve Lawrence was commissioned by Stratford Development Partnerships over a decade ago to carry out a feasibility study for the Olympics on Stratford Rail Lands once it became clear that Wembley was not a viable site for the Games.
Today in an exclusive interview he revealed that he complained to the European Commission in August last year because he felt the bidding process for the future use of the stadium was "opaque" and could lead to a heavy burden on the taxpayer. He believed a joint athletics football legacy would never generate the cash needed to sustain the stadium.
"There's nothing in this for me whatsoever," he said. "I don't have any connections with any of the parties involved. I care a great deal about the project. It's a project I started in the first place and I want the legacy in east London to last for generations. When I was working on this back in the 90's and in 2001, that was my motivation. I felt that this could bring about great change and I saw this process turning into a debacle and it was not generating a sensible legacy. I still believe that it is unrealistic to predicate the legacy use on athletics. It can only work with a football use in the stadium."
"I do think it expanded rather more than it needed to, I think too much land has been used up, and I believe the stadium would have better positioned to the north of channel tunnel railway station. It would have been easier combine with the warm up track which would have made producing a sensible legacy project much easier.
"In its present form with athletics only, it's definitely not viable. If you look at the 1928 stadium in Amsterdam, if you look at the Barcelona Olympic Stadium, if you look at Munich. All of these stadia require support from the state and have done in the long term. The stadium in Amsterdam is now nearly 80, maybe 90 years old and it still needs state support and as things stand the stand we will be supporting the Olympic stadium for the next 100 years."
West Ham FC along with Newham Council were granted tenancy of the stadium after the 2012 Games in February last year.
Rival bidders Spurs FC and Leyton Orient FC launched a judicial review against the decision shortly after, claiming a £40 million loan Newham Council had agreed to lend into a limited liability partnership between them and West Ham FC, amounted to unfair state aid to a commercial firm.
Alongside the judicial review in the High Court, Steve Lawrence's complaint was made to the European Commission. The government cited the anonymous complaint as their reason for collapsing the deal. They claimed European litigation could paralyse the legacy for years. However Steve Lawrence disputes the government's reasoning over the collapsing of the deal.
He said: "I identified the problem very early on at the beginning of 2011. If it had been dealt with properly and had they listened I wouldn't have needed to make the complaint because they would have been dealing with the issue.
Was my complaint the reason for pulling the plug on it? I'm not sure if that's true. I don't know all the details of the judicial review but I think it was due be decided the following week. My feeling is that they used the complaint as an excuse for pulling out in advance of the judicial review (with Spurs and Leyton Orient) as they knew they were going to lose."
The architect also feels the deal with West Ham could have gone critically wrong if another football club had later complained to the EU Commission over the £40 million loan.
"If you hand over state property to a private company and that private company is in competition with other European companies in the same sort of business and of course a football club competing in European competition would be. If that had been shown subsequently shown to be illegal, and I'm not saying it was.
"Had it been shown, then in those circumstances, West Ham would have had to repay the subsidy. Now if that had happened after they had moved out of Upton Park and that ground had been redeveloped they then would then have been in a position where they would have had to return that stadium and they would have been homeless and we would have lost one of our precious English football clubs."
In December last year, the Olympic Park Legacy Company then opened a new process for bidders which included short 'concessions' for bidders rather than a longer lease as was originally planned. Spurs in the meantime withdrew their interest and decided to redevelop their ground Northumberland Park. The new terms are not as appealing for West Ham and Leyton Orient as they no longer include the lucrative naming rights. These will now remain with the government.
The successful bidder is expected to be announced in May. However Steve Lawrence is calling for the bid process to be stopped immediately and the government conduct a review into the entire legacy process as he believes a shared athletics and football legacy will not raise sufficient revenues. Without this he fears the stadium will become a "white elephant".
He said: "What I would like to now call for is a review of the present situation. I would actually like the present bidding process to be stopped because I still don't think it's going to generate the kind of legacy we need.
"I call on the government to institute a proper review of it, a comprehensive review, to take some time to consider this now. My suggestion is to ask Lord Rogers to oversee that as he's been involved in the project since 2001 and he knows the broad framework. I also believe we need to look at the issue of the warm up track.
"I believe if we construct a centre for athletics on the land where the warm up track will be and then allow the stadium to be converted for football only use, possibly with joint tenancy for West Ham and Leyton Orient, now Spurs have withdrawn from the process, I think we have a project where everyone can win. My recommendation is to take a step back, take a good look at it and then I think we can wind up with a genuine legacy."
A spokesperson for the Olympic Park Legacy Company said:
"As promised to the International Olympic Committee when London won the bid to stage the Olympics and Paralympics, the stadium will become a new national centre for athletics, and host to the 2017 World Athletics Championships.
"We are currently well underway with a new process to identify additional tenants and occupants to provide a mix of sport, events and community use in the stadium. We have had 16 expressions of interest and we aim to appoint before the Games"