Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to see us this morning. During the last few days the newspapers have been filled with excitement about your plans about which the Committee will be asking you, starting with Alan Keen.

Alan Keen

40.  The new platform. As you know, this Committee was in full support previously of the platform for athletics at Wembley. I have studied this, and if it is better than the other platform it must be acceptable—to me, anyway. But could you explain the differences and the improvements?

  (Mr Sheard) It is not so much a different platform; it is just really a development of the original platform idea. When the design as it was developed was presented to you last time, it had been taken to a certain point. Figures were put on it in terms of cost and build-ability and all those sorts of things, and they are always safe things: people will just not stick their neck out unless the basic design work has been done. We have carried that on and we really developed the platform to a point where it has really proven to be viable. We have had contractors looking at it to prove that they believe it is viable and we have managed to get both the cost and the build time down. So it is essentially the same platform.

41.  The removal time is much shorter, is it?

  (Mr Sheard) And the build time. The build time is about six weeks, we are saying now, and the removal time is about four weeks.

42.  In every other way, then, the sightlines and everything else, it would be the same.

  (Mr Sheard) The sightlines, the location, everything else. What we are really doing is concentrating on doing it on a more pre-fabricated basis rather than using in-situ techniques.

43.  We talked before about the concrete platform being available again in the future—not that, as we all know, Wembley would be needed for many athletic events, maybe, over 20 years, one more. Presumably it would be easier to store as well, or would it be simple enough just to take away and use somewhere else and then provide another one when it is needed. I am asking these questions because a little bit was made of this in the past, that it would not be just thrown away at the end of one athletics event.

  (Mr Sheard) The original concept was to have a solution which could always be inserted into a new Wembley so that at any time in the future, whether it is 20 years or 50 years for that matter, you could still hold athletics at Wembley. That is the whole principle. That still stands true. Whether you wish to put the platform in a shed somewhere and wait until the next event or whether you just really hire it for the event and just wait until the next event comes along—these events do not come along all that often—would be purely a commercial decision.


44.  Could I just ask you, then—because I thought that I was living in my own private world of fantasy until you talked about putting the platforms in a shed until a further occasion—does that mean that it could be transferred from a shed to large vans and moved away to, say, Old Trafford? That is, if it is a moveable facility, it could go anywhere, not necessarily only to Wembley Stadium.

  (Mr Sheard) Yes. I mean, the very original concept of the platform was to say ... We had really just come hot off the design work on Stadium Australia. We saw what was involved in having these highly expensive, very heavily maintainable moving tiers which we have got there—which are fantastic but they are a huge on-cost and a huge problem just to maintain every year—and we said, "There has got to be a better solution." That is really where the platform came from. The concept was at that very early stage to be able to have a platform which could be inserted into either Wembley or perhaps even another stadium around the country which was designed also for football with the possibility of athletics, probably of a different size, because you would not want two stadiums of a similar size, but you could insert it into a smaller, perhaps 30,000 or 40,000 seat stadium and achieve the same ends. The only thing I would say is that you really have to design the base stadium to start with to take the platform. You cannot just automatically insert it—or not always, I should say.

Derek Wyatt

45.  Say you had been given the contract for Wembley, you would have gone with the other system. Now you have come forward with better technology. Would you have had a facility to go, "Crumbs, we have changed it, it is better"?—because you would have been commissioned under the old one if this had gone ahead.

  (Mr Sheard) As far as the deck goes?

46.  Yes.

  (Mr Sheard) No. You see, it does not quite work like that, the building industry. The building industry works on the basis that with the design work, the sort of thing that people like myself in the design team do, you work up until the very last minute, until an order has to be placed, and then you place an order for the very best that design has got to. You could make an academic argument that if you were given another couple of years on almost any project, you would refine it and tune it a little bit more. I think it is true to say that we would not be placing an order for this deck, even if it were to be put into place, for another ... some time, so there is probably even yet more design development to come.

47.  Given that, and given you gave us a private briefing last time you were here and we all agreed that that was the system the Committee wanted, Wembley wanted, your platform, do you think there is enough corporate intelligence within the Government that understood what you were trying to do? You know, this is a shambles.

  (Mr Sheard) I have no idea. I would not comment.

48.  You would have presented. Government ministers and civil servants came to see it. I mean, this is the only safe solution to have delivered the world athletics.

  (Mr Sheard) I cannot comment on that. All I can say is similar types of concepts have been accepted by San Francisco, New York, for their Olympic bidding proposals. When the concept was described to the IOC in Lausanne, where we have ongoing discussions with them, they could see no problems with it. In fact they thought it was an attractive proposition because, from an Olympic point of view, the thing that they do not like is the Montreal effect—you know, the sort of White Elephant which gives the Olympic movement a bad name. So the concept of being able to build a very useful stadium which can be used for other purposes, and then be able to install an Olympic Games and then take it out again without huge on-costs, they find attractive. So I could not comment in this particular case.

49.  What are the technical issues with stands, then?—given that Sydney had to take out, I think, the north and south (if I have got my geography right). They came out at the end. They were, what, 25,000 each?

  (Mr Sheard) 15,000. 30,000 seats came out or are coming out.

50.  So if there is the technology to put them in and out, presumably that can apply to any stadium currently built.

  (Mr Sheard) It can, although Sydney was a rather kind of unique phenomenon because of the way it was funded. Stadium Australia was really funded through those 30,000 seats because we won the bid—we as a consortium bidding to design and build the stadium—on the basis of giving the IOC the 80,000 seats that had already been promised to them, and by building an additional 30,000 seats we could fund the construction of the stadium by selling off those seats in advance. So it was a slightly unique phenomenon, in the sense that you would not normally build a 110,000 seat Olympic stadium. They really do not need it. It was really the funding route that caused that.

51.  But the stadium company has gone broke from there.

  (Mr Sheard) No, what happened, if we want to get into Sydney, is we—

52.  It seems to me, if we are going to build a new stadium, that it has got some relevance.

  (Mr Sheard) It has got relevance, it is true. There is an existing stadium in Sydney which takes about 45,000, Sydney Football Stadium, which is effectively run by the Government—it is a trust run by the Government—and it is in direct competition with a private enterprise which is Stadium Australia. They have not quite got their act together as to what events go to which venues. That is really what the process is that they are going through right now.

Miss Kirkbride

53.  I am intrigued as to what new technology was at stake that came up with what seems, on the face of it, to be a much more attractive solution for Wembley in the space of pretty much a year. Is there anything that our Committee might understand in that or is it just genius in your office?

  (Mr Sheard) I would like to think that, but ... it is not really new technology, it is really just being given the chance to develop the design. I think when I was here last, I explained that the design had got to a certain point but that design really represented a certain budget and a certain programme to build, which was as good as anybody was prepared to put their hand on their heart and say could be done. Because that is the key. The key is not believing that you can do it; the key is getting someone to absolutely demonstrate that you can do it and will guarantee it. Because it is very easy to make promises; it is another thing to be absolutely sure of it. What we have used that period of time to do is to get to the point where we now have people who are prepared to put their hand on their heart and guarantee that new time for that new budget. So it is really just a development. It is no new technology.

54.  What is the seat position in the new stadium? What is the cost position of the new proposal?

  (Mr Sheard) The seating is no different. It is a 90,000 seat stadium. When you put the platform in, it automatically closes down to 67,000 seats, but then, if you wish to reconfigure the lower tier, you can get to 80,000 seats. So that is essentially the same as it was before because the platform goes into the same place. In terms of cost, we are presently looking at total costs of about £10 million to put the platform in and also to take care of the training track or the warm-up track—and without that you cannot put on an event in any case.

55.  So the £10 million includes —

  (Mr Sheard) Yes.

56.  And the cost of the building the stadium —

  (Mr Sheard) The cost of building the stadium itself —

57.  — does not alter that.

  (Mr Sheard) — is not affected by the platform. That has been going through another process of design development—which finds its way into the newspapers on a regular basis.

58.  You have said there is an option of an extra 30,000 seats. Does that make a difference to the time scales in which you can put it in and take it out?

  (Mr Sheard) It does. You really only go for the 80,000 seater for an Olympic Games. Nothing else really justifies it. And for the lead-up period for an Olympic games, by the time you hand over the stadium, give it to the organising committee for that particular country, they need probably six months or something like that, so it is built into that. So, yes, it takes longer to reconfigure the seats.

59.  So what kind of time scales are we talking about for this stadium if Tessa Jowell was tomorrow to say, "OK"?

  (Mr Sheard) To build the whole stadium we have a build time of 39 months effectively. We have a builder who has been through it, who has studied all of the pros and cons, and is prepared guarantee a programme of 39 months.

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