Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 87 - 99)



  Chairman: Mr Carter, thank you very much indeed for coming to see us with your colleagues. We are particularly appreciative of the fact that due to factors outside our own control you agreed at such short notice to come here. We are very grateful to you indeed. Derek Wyatt?

Derek Wyatt

87.  It was no real surprise to us that you found against Picketts Lock because that was our view as a Committee. What I am interested in is why does it require an outside person to come into a Department to tell them the hard facts of life?

  (Mr Carter) I think partly because the circumstances did change over time. If you look at the main reasons why we were not in favour of Picketts Lock, it was to do with infrastructure—the transport to the site was not good and the athletes' accommodation was unproven. I think there was a hope when this was originally set in train that the transport infrastructure, particularly the Liverpool Street to Stansted Line, would be upgraded and therefore more people would be carried to the site. As it stands the excess capacity on that line is about 300 people an hour at the key time it is needed and for that reason really I think it could not go ahead. I think it is a change of circumstances.

88.  That is not an answer really. Do you mean to say that inside the Department with, I do not know, 100 civil servants with joined-up government between the DTI and DCMS on many projects, that there was not the core competency anywhere in any one of those Departments to do an infrastructure assessment and say, "I am sorry, Secretary of State, before you make the announcement, this is not going to work"?

  (Mr Carter) It is slightly difficult for me because I do not have the detailed knowledge of the Department to comment on that. I came to it and I was able to do it. I had help from the Department but actually what the resources of the Department were I really could not comment on.

89.  Can you understand that the Olympic athletes and the world-class athletes that we have are in despair that our own Government, my Government cannot get its act together and cannot make these decisions quickly enough and cannot see the bigger macro picture? We are a laughing stock on this thing and it is deeply disturbing.

  (Mr Carter) I think there is a strong case for putting this right. Clearly, there is not a good process.

90.  So what would be your main recommendations so that this never happens again?

  (Mr Carter) I think we need to have a review of how major events are conducted.

91.  But we had that review, we suggested there should be—and in fact Ian McCartney was named—in the Cabinet Office one single decision-maker who could have real focus. He was taken away. Fortunately, we have resolved the Commonwealth Games, much of it our doing on this Committee, but the fact is he was not focused in the Cabinet Office on that any more than on Picketts Lock.

  (Mr Carter) That is right. Whether what has been done to date is effective enough obviously is a question. Clearly somebody has to do something if we are to compete for major events effectively and not mount bids that are not properly costed and thought out and where the consequences are not really in the public domain early on.

92.  We spend something like £25 million on sporting administration. I am not sure that UK sport even has that sort of money to spend. We also have these committees who are supposed to have core competencies. It seems to me that there is something fundamentally missing in our sporting structure. What are your main recommendations going to be?

  (Mr Carter) We have to establish a major events group, or whatever it is, which establishes a process to make sure the right questions are asked at the right time, ie. early enough. What seems to be the picture in all these major events is we start them, we do not cost them properly, events develop, the nation gets embarrassed, the Government pays or chooses not to pay.


93.  But, Mr Carter, how do you think Picketts Lock was alighted upon in the first place? Do you think they got a great map of London and using methods the Americans are doing to try to find Bin Laden had criteria for a satellite to look down and decide where a stadium would be? If so, I hope we have better luck with Bin Laden.

  (Mr Carter) I think after the decision was made to take athletics out of Wembley there was this search of London locations. It is quite hard, first of all, to find a big site in London. London is very dense and much of it is brownfield land that has contamination problems or there are greater planning issues, particularly surrounding the green belt. It is difficult to find a big site as they found last time. Picketts Lock was the best of a bad bunch of sites to look at. I think it was the least worst rather than the best.

94.  You have got a remit, Mr Carter, with regard to Wembley as well and there we are, there is Wembley, it exists, it is a site which has got problems, okay, and the original proposal (which is why they got £120 million of lottery money) is you would have a football stadium where athletics could also be staged. It may well be that you have had a chance during your work to glance at the reports we have done. What justification in your mind is there for the Government's outright rejection of our proposal? Your predecessors and other witnesses have said that if our proposal had been adopted it would be in time for 2005. What justification have you found of the Government's outright rejection of our proposal that Wembley should be built with a deck solution as a football and athletics stadium, which is what Sport England wanted in the first place?

  (Mr Carter) As you know, I am looking at Wembley and national stadium issues and I do not want to get drawn too closely into that because clearly it is a sensitive time. As regards athletics in or out of Wembley that really all occurred before my time. As I have come up to do these reviews I have considered Picketts Lock separate to Wembley and Wembley really as a football stadium. Whether athletics can go back into it and the timing of that is of course something we will continue to look at. When the Wembley review is announced we will have some views on it.

95.  Let me ask you another question that I also asked the Wembley people. You have been appointed by the Government because the Government has become involved with this project and has got entangled with it rather like a tar baby. Do you think governments should be involved in this?

  (Mr Carter) In Picketts Lock?

96.  No. You have been given this remit. You are looking into Wembley and you are looking into Picketts Lock. You made a recommendation which the Secretary of State, in my personal view, very wisely accepted, but now that you have studied these matters—and it has not been your previous area of expertise which is why, in my view, it is a very good thing that you have done it—that being so, and as a general question, not related to either of the areas that you are looking into, do you think that governments actually ought to involve themselves, particularly in this detailed way, in the building of sports stadiums?

  (Mr Carter) No, I believe not. I think there should be agencies or an agency that has that responsibility. There does seem to be some confusion as to where that responsibility rests and one of the interesting things, particularly if you look at Sport England, is the grounds on which it can give money but also what it can do after that to make sure its involvement or grant is properly protected. I think that is a relatively unsatisfactory area. I think that implementation of these things should be through some recognised body.

97.  Without wishing to influence the outcome of your consideration of Wembley, may I put it to you that there is a serious lesson involved in this for governments, namely, that governments are there to provide health services and education and law and order and all these other things, and they are not building contractors, and whenever governments get involved in building, ranging from the shambles of the British Library that was due to take five years and cost £74 million and took 30 years and cost £511 million, to the Millennium Bridge across which nobody can walk, if you look at all the other building projects in which government has been involved directly, is there not a very good lesson for New Labour in its second phase (I do not ask you to take on the party political aspect of what I have said) to say, "Okay, that is the end of our involvement in building things. If people want to build things and they get planning permission, let them go ahead, but not us any more"?

  (Mr Carter) It is important to try and distinguish between things that can stand alone commercially and things that cannot. If you look at the proposed Picketts Lock, it could never have gone forward without some form of public money, whether that is public money defined as lottery money or public money defined as government money, but I think it is a choice the Government will have to make because these things cannot move forward without it. So I think that is part of the strategy of whether they wish to support the development of sports infrastructure and through which organisations they do it.

98.  In that case the question is why should public money be involved in any of these things?

  I give you the example of Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. It was not built with Government money at all. It got certain aspects of public funding and it was built and completed with the stipulation by Manchester City Council that it should be self-sustaining, that Manchester City Council would not subsidise it in any way whatsoever. It may well be the European Union gave some money to it and other things have gone in as well, but is it not about time that governments kept their noses out of these things?
  (Mr Carter) I think the Government will have to decide if it wants to create sporting infrastructure. It is very hard to see, without some form of public money, how it could be done. Whether it is the Government or some other organisation is a question. Without some public involvement it is quite hard to see how it can be done. I cannot see examples in any other countries where some form of public involvement has not been there. In the United States of America most of the big stadiums have been built on the back of bond financing guaranteed by government. Whether they part with the cash is a matter of whether the scheme works or not but all around the edges of sporting infrastructure you can feel the hand of government. It is a choice of whether we want that infrastructure or not.

99.  Again the question arises—and you are extremely well placed to consider it—to what extent do we actually need these places? If Picketts Lock had been built what would have happened there apart from staging the World Athletics Championships? This Committee went to Kuala Lumpa to look at an enormous stadium originally planned for 80,000 spectators but on the whim of the Prime Minister (their Prime Minister, not ours) it was expanded to 100,000 and once they had held the Commonwealth Games there they have not the faintest idea what they are going to do with it. What would have happened to Picketts Lock if it had been built in time and all of these factors that led you rightly to recommend that it should not go ahead? We have got a dramatically beautiful stadium going up in Manchester for the Commonwealth Games but it is going to be handed straight over to Manchester Football Club. Why do we need these places?

  (Mr Carter) The answer must be unless there is a really enduring legacy where these buildings get used, clearly one-time use is not justifiable. On that point you just have to look around the world for half-used stadiums or failed stadiums or failed sporting events. I think one has to be incredibly careful and look beyond the immediate announcement of securing some world class-events to what happens afterwards. That is why the Manchester thing is such a good deal because there is a proper use for it. In the case of Picketts Lock the legacy benefit of Picketts Lock could be met by a much lesser involvement. Often one gets these things mixed up and what we attempted to do in the review was to distinguish between how much you were spending for a legacy and how much you effectively would be spending for a ten-day event in 2005.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 November 2001