Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 360 - 379)

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001

SIR NIGEL MOBBS

  360. Why do you think we did not get this right to begin with? It took us 20 minutes when we were on our first visit to Wembley to say, "If you do not own all that land over there and if there is no improvement to transport, this was a mad decision", but it did not seem to appear to anybody else that it was a mad decision not to have the whole area.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I think I would agree with you if one was starting with a clean sheet of paper, which unfortunately one seldom ever can do. That is the obvious conclusion to draw. There is however a range of very fragmented ownerships in the area, particularly between the stadium and Wembley Park Station and the adjoining corridor. The ownership is a difficult nut to crack and would have certainly involved a very substantial purchasing need, either by way of CPO or other means, which I should have thought would have probably made it even more difficult. The role of my task force is to try and encourage owners to collaborate in a privately-funded regeneration which will come, but I am afraid the catalyst for that is going to be the commitment of the stadium.

  361. When we look back over this in the next five or ten years, when the stadium has been opened, we hope, do you feel essentially that what we should have gone for is a new Wembley at terminal five or the M25 and it is a total mistake to try and regenerate this area as it is, given how complicated an area it is to get to?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) No, I do not. I think the location of Wembley, looking at it in the context of a national stadium within the area of London, is a good location. It is extremely well accessed by road and rail. Unfortunately, both the road and rail systems are in need of reinvestment, which would probably be needed in many respects if there was no stadium there. If we were just looking at it as a regeneration of a very deprived part of London, we would certainly be looking to improve that infrastructure. I think the Wembley location is a good one for it. On the point you make about the ownership of land, I think it is a great pity that when Wembley plc sold the footprint of the stadium to the stadium company they did not embrace the areas related to car parking, access, etc.

  362. When you look therefore to a bid, we have not been good at bids. Manchester was given to us on a plate, thankfully. Let us hope we make a great success of it. When you look ahead, do you feel we have the core competence within culture, media and sport? The Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not have any money for sport. It is Lottery led which is arm's length. The DTI does have access to European and United Kingdom money. Since you have taken over the chairmanship, where do you think it ought to be placed? If you look at the Olympic bid in particular, it is clear there has to be a bond of £2 billion or £3 billion. The Government is not going to pay that.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) Looking at it very specifically from my role as Chairman of the Task Force, I am accountable to both the DETR and DCMS. It happens that DCMS have been perhaps more in the headlines over this issue because of the stadium, but a lot of the work which has happened has been within the remit of DETR and has more recently been in the remit of the GLA. Clearly, if one was embarking upon a mega bid, one has to look at it in a completely new and creative way, which is not the normal way in which bidding for sport perhaps occurs. There are other difficulties which are associated with looking at the Wembley location for a mega bid of, say, something like the Olympics, which is the town planning blight which would be imposed upon the area at a time when regeneration and new jobs are very desperately needed in a deprived area.

Mr Faber

  363. After our Report on Wembley Stadium, you wrote a letter which was appended to the Secretary of State's response to us in which you criticised the Committee for not taking the wider regeneration of Wembley into account in our Report. In the first point of that letter you said, "The possible future use of the stadium for the Olympics in 2012 or beyond would require substantial land adjoining the stadium to be reserved for such use pending the outcome of any bid. This would result in land available for essential regeneration being blighted. This blight would also add to the economic deprivation of the Wembley area." In our Report, we did not recommend a 2012 bid; we were talking about the 2005 World Athletics Championships. Do you really feel you were justified in supporting the withdrawal of athletics from Wembley on the basis of something that we did not actually say?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) We made the comments based upon the advice we had already given to the Secretary of State, which was at a time when there was the concept of the stadium being used for the Olympics. In a way, the whole of the principles of the promotion of the stadium in July 1999 was about it being an anchor for a future Olympic bid. That created considerable uncertainty in terms of land use in the area. I did advise the Secretary of State that the 2005 question could be accommodated because it could be done on a temporary basis, albeit quite expensive.

  364. That is very interesting because the Secretary of State relied very heavily on this letter of yours in his response to us. You are now telling us that your advice was that 2005 could have been held. We never saw that; we never heard that.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I cannot answer for the Secretary of State's response.

  365. You are saying 2005 could have been accommodated and that the blight arguments applied to an Olympic bid because it was so much further down the road?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) Yes.

  366. Brent Council continue to support Wembley as a possible athletics venue, or at least they have done in evidence to us. Presumably, their best interests are in the regeneration of the area so they clearly do not view athletics as being incompatible with the regeneration of the Wembley area.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I think one needs to put into context what is involved in accommodating athletics. Perhaps too much emphasis has been put onto the accommodation within the stadium and not enough about the necessity for a warm-up track which has to be effectively contiguous with the stadium and which could be accommodated but at a cost. I know there have been some very hairy costs thrown around over the whole project of Wembley, so I would not want to be held to say it has been a properly evaluated costing, but we believe that a warm-up track in that location would cost probably about £17 million to £20 million to buy the land and another £8 million to £10 million to create a facility. That would then depend too on whether or not it was a permanent legacy provision or of a temporary nature. The question is who funds that.

  367. This Committee probably has the costs of the warm-up track imprinted on its brain. We supported in our Report the much cheaper version of a warm-up track which Wembley itself had suggested, Sport England agreed with and WNSL, the company, agreed with. There was at the time and there is still considerable debate as to how the cost of the warm-up track has been arrived at. We as a Committee felt that the more expensive version has now become a convenient amount of money to be put into Pickets Lock, whereas it was never going to cost that much in the first place.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) You are looking at the other options. One of the other options never stood up to engineering scrutiny over the railway. Copelands School was probably very remote in terms of the management of the world athletics.

  368. Could I ask a little more about Mr Fearn's question to you about the £20 million repayment? I wish we had seen you months ago because we have spent months trying to pin down who was responsible for this £20 million repayment and it turns out it was you all along. You said a hand shake agreement was reached. Who was the hand shake with?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) Mr David Richards.

  369. That was as a result of this initial meeting at 10 Downing Street?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I do not know what happened at 10 Downing Street. I was not present.

  370. How was the figure of £20 million arrived at?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) There is no precision in this figure. The original request from the Secretary of State was for £40 million which the FA were deeply concerned about on questions of affordability. The haggling led to a figure of £20 million, which was acceptable to the Secretary of State.

  371. You have used the word. You haggled on behalf of the Secretary of State with Mr David Richards on behalf of the Football Association.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) Yes, which followed an earlier meeting I had with Mr Thompson at the FA and then the subsequent discussions with Mr David Richards.

  372. At some stage Mr Bates went to see the Secretary of State in his home as well.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) So I have recently gathered.

  Mr Faber: It is quite a tangled web.

Chairman

  373. Mr Faber, you have teased out from this tangle one or two interesting questions that I would like to follow up before you continue. I have been looking at your response which, as it happens, was published precisely a year ago today. It is the anniversary of your response. Many happy returns. In your response, as Mr Faber has elicited from you, you say, "I support the decision of the Secretary of State . . .". Am I now to understand accurately that you said you supported the decision of the Secretary of State on the advice of the Secretary of State?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) No. I do not think that would be a fair interpretation.

  374. That was the impression I got from your reply to Mr Faber. Furthermore, so far as I can gather from your reply to Mr Faber—please correct me if I am wrong, as I frequently am—your support for the decision of the Secretary of State in deciding that the proposed new stadium should not include an option for the stadium to be adaptable for use for athletics was relating not to the World Athletics Championships of 2005 but to an Olympic Games bid for possibly 2012.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) One needs to look at the circumstances. My advice to the Secretary of State was that the stadium could be adapted for athletics for the 2005 because it could be done in a way which was tied in with the initial construction of the stadium. It would therefore vary from the idea that you opened the stadium, subsequently closed it and put the table in and then subsequently took the table out. You could do it probably most economically, if you were going to use that route. I agreed with the Secretary of State's view that broadly speaking athletics and football do not mix in terms of the design of the stadium without extreme cost, inconvenience and disruption. Therefore, the better solution is probably an alternative, but the advice was very much couched on the basis it could be achieved. It would not necessarily be the right result.

  375. I find what you are telling us truly fascinating. You went on in your response to talk about the possible future use of the stadium for the Olympics in 2012. You dismiss the possibility of it being used for athletics on the basis of the very occasional use of the stadium for world class athletics, but you are now telling the Committee that you saw no reason why it could not be used for the World Athletics Championships of 2005.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) On a one-off basis.

  376. I understand that completely. The World Athletics Championships of 2005 are a one-off event. It is not going to happen in other years, is it? What you are telling us—and I compliment Mr Faber again; I hope he does not get embarrassed by the compliment. He laid the groundwork on this—is that, despite the impression that we have from the statement rushed out by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport literally on the same afternoon as we issued our Report last year, you have never opposed the idea of Wembley being used on a one-off basis for the World Athletics Championships of 2005.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) Provided that the question of the funding of the warm-up track and other facilities that go with it was dealt with.

  Chairman: Certainly. I can quite see that and nothing is simple. Very few things are capable of yes and no answers unless the question is phrased with great comprehensiveness, but at the same time—please accept that I am in no way critical of you—what you have been telling us in the last few minutes is totally contrary to the impression that we obtained a year ago. I will now hand back to Mr Faber because Mr Faber is leading counsel on this.

Mr Faber

  377. It may sound a rude question; I promise you it is not meant to be, but did you draft this response yourself?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I cannot recollect at this stage whether I did or did not. I think I saw it but I do not think I drafted it. I would need to refresh my memory on that particular letter.

  Chairman: I must say that Mr Faber, being so eminently polite and courteous a gentleman, is able to ask a question which I hesitated to ask myself.

Mr Faber

  378. The trouble for us is that everywhere we have gone the decision to remove athletics from Wembley—every single supporter of that decision which the Secretary of State has prayed in aid—their argument has subsequently fallen apart, one by one. You are now telling us that this very strong letter which was attached to the official response to our Report, which was made in the normal time although, as the Chairman said, a press release was put out at the very moment we released the Report, was not even drafted by you and does not even mention 2005 which is basically what the whole Report was about. I find it astonishing.
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I am not going to commit myself to whether or not I drafted that letter without having a chance to refresh my memory on it.

Chairman

  379. Did you make a telephone call?
  (Sir Nigel Mobbs) I can revert to your secretary on this afterwards.

  Chairman: Thank you.


 
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