Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



Rosemary McKenna

100.  I think the root problem is clear—that we really need multi-purpose stadia but the incompatibility of football with athletics means that it is very difficult to get all these agencies together to take that forward. Someone else was saying earlier on that the cities want to do this as part of a regeneration project, and that is understandable, and somehow we have got to find a way of making sure that all the agencies work together with the Government. I agree with you, I do not think any of it would work without some public investment, I think that is a necessary part of it. There has to be something coming back to the people and that is why the cities get involved. On a specific question though, as a result of your review the Government are saying Sheffield is the preferred option. Did you really look at Edinburgh as a possible alternative? Could you give us an idea why you rejected it?

  (Mr Carter) We looked at eight alternatives to Picketts Lock of which Edinburgh was one. The same thing really applies to Edinburgh as to Crystal Palace. It would have to be a complete rebuild. When we looked at the site, particularly aerial pictures of the site, we thought it would be extremely difficult to get a stadium of 43,000 people onto the site together with a warm-up track onto the site. And, secondly, it was a question of time-tabling. If you recall, when we were looking at this in the summer of this year we had four years to go to the staging of the event, and just looking at the timetables you probably need six to nine months to plan and six months at the other end to dry run it to make sure it is all going to work. One of the things about a site like Edinburgh, on top of the difficulty of fitting it all on site, was an issue of time-tabling. If we withdrew from Picketts Lock and we had a go at something else and that failed that would be an issue. There were two issues; site constraint and time tabling.

101.  That does not really fit with what the previous Wembley people were saying. They were saying they would do the whole thing within 39 months. What you are saying does not tie in with what they are saying.

  (Mr Carter) The Wembley people said they could build it in 39 months, that is starting on site all the way through to handing it over, that is the construction period. If you look at the four years, taking Edinburgh, this stadium would be simpler so it would be 24 months or 30 months but still you would be running into tightness each end. One of the things to learn from this is that there is a danger always in bidding for an event if you have not got a stadium because everything is against you and you have this "drop dead" date when you must open it, so all the prices move against you and all the pressures to pour money into it will move against you and it makes it that much harder to manage. That is one of the things we wanted to make sure of; the deliverability was the key to this. Would we get it on time and would it work when we got it?

Michael Fabricant

102.  If the view—and it is a big "if"—is that governments should be involved in projects of this kind—and I certainly take the view that successive governments in this country do not seem to do a particularly good job of it—are there lessons to be learned from other countries? You mentioned the United States and of course France is also renowned for these major projects. I get the impression from my French friends that they are very good at that sort of thing, delivering projects on time and on budget. Have you looked at the French model and other models and are there lessons for successive United Kingdom Governments about how we can develop projects, whether they be sporting events, British libraries, Domes, and do them on time on budget?

  (Mr Carter) We did look at the experience of France. If you take the biggest example, which is the Stade de France, it is architecturally a great success and events wise a great success, but financially a great problem requiring an on-going subsidy from the French Government to maintain it. So the role of the Government was central to that and the role of the Government supporting it going forward means it is a model which we would find some difficulty in gaining support for. It goes back to this earlier question of can you find a legacy that makes the investment self-supporting? Can you afford the capital? Can you afford the revenue expenditure to keep it going? To enter into something where you have to find both is probably a bit demanding.

103.  I do not know whether you were here for the evidence of Wembley National Stadium Limited but you will have heard that they thought it unlikely if they were given the go-ahead now that they could complete the Wembley Stadium in time for 2005. Do you wish with hindsight that they had been given the go-ahead for this and that Wembley would have indeed been the right location?

  (Mr Carter) That is a straying into the Wembley area which I am trying not to do. I think the only point in giving any go-ahead to a national stadium is when it is on a proper footing, and until it is on a proper footing letting it go forward would be a mistake because it will always come back and cause problems.

104.  That sounds like you are saying whether it was Wembley Stadium or anywhere else, the whole project was a non-starter from day one.

  (Mr Carter) It is like all these things, it is in the detail. I think people can buy concepts; they are very easy and very dangerous. The question is when you take it to pieces, is it robust enough to come out as you thought it would when you have done it? That is obviously the reason we are reviewing Wembley now.


105.  That does raise as existentialist question, does it not? If you are asking what to build as legacy projects, the answer has got to be arts centres. The Lowry Centre is an enormous success, exceeding any estimates of how many people would attend there. This Committee went to Newark, New Jersey where they built an arts centre which utterly regenerated the area, full of people. We went to Brisbane, the same thing there. You build an arts centre and people are going to go there every day of the year. You build a stadium and, with the best will in the world, it is going to be empty most of the time, is it not?

  (Mr Carter) I suppose the answer is different people go to stadiums than go to arts centres so it is a question of —

106.  Mr Carter, you are an extraordinarily knowledgeable person but I do recommend you look a little farther into it.

  (Mr Carter) I know what you are saying, Chairman, but there are different audiences who have different requirements.

  Michael Fabricant: I think the point the Chairman is making, and of course you are right, there are different audiences, is that whereas an arts centre is open all the time for events, athletics stadiums are not, so there is a continuous point. I would make the point that the Committee also went to Barcelona and to Atlanta, both building stadiums, both doing Olympic bids and both benefiting.

  Chairman: Not Atlanta. Barcelona yes.

Michael Fabricant

107.  You talked about the point being in the detail and I wanted to ask you about a particular point of detail in your own report because UK Athletics has challenged you on one point. I will read you one sentence in their evidence. It says: "It should be noted that in early 2000 when the concept of a national athletics centre was first discussed, and before a site had been found, the ball-park figures cited were £92 million to £122 million. There has never been a belief that it could be delivered for £60 million." And they accuse there of being a misconception about the original budget. Would you like to respond to that?

  (Mr Carter) I do not recognise £60 million. The number we were looking at was around £97 million. That was what we were working from and then we got the quantity surveyors to look at it and check it and we increased that by 4.9 million and put a contingency on top of that based on the experience of the Manchester Stadium and the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, both of which experienced some cost creep. The £60 million figure is not a figure I recognise.

108.  Thank you for that. So, Mr Carter, where do we go from here? Do you think we are going to get the 2005 bid? Is it going to be Sheffield. If it is not, is it going to be another location or should we just forget about it and move on?

  (Mr Carter) Clearly Sheffield could mount a good bid. It has got a very good stadium, it has got the transport, it has got the infrastructure, all the things that were absent at Picketts Lock. Whether the IAAF wants to go to a city like Sheffield remains to be seen. Their position is it has to go back out to bid again and other cities may have stronger claims.

109.  Indeed the IAAF might say the United Kingdom offers London as a glamorous city or, as I said earlier on, a sexy city in some respects. It is not a rather odd assumption that they are going to blindly and somewhat weakly accept Sheffield as an alternative?

  (Mr Carter) The fact about Sheffield is that it is there, it exists.

110.  It is convenient for us but it may not be convenient for the IAAF?

  (Mr Carter) That is their choice.

Alan Keen

111.  This is a slightly facetious question to start but to make a decision on Picketts Lock as to whether it is sustainable or not, did it take you five minutes or ten minutes to make your mind up that it was not sustainable and therefore not worth doing? It is a slightly facetious and cheeky question.

  (Mr Carter) No, it actually took a very long time because we wanted to be sure in arriving at the decision that we had unpacked everything, that something could not come back. If you look at the time we took to satisfy ourselves about the transport, of course until very late in the day the athletes' accommodation was much more proximate to where it probably would end up going in the subsequent proposals. So it took us a long time to verify everything. There were moments at the beginning when you looked at the original case when it seemed quite sensible. It was difficult to find big sites. On the face of it the transport was there, you have this railway line next to the other track. And so it goes on. When you gradually got down to the detail of delivering something that was good, we could have had the event —

112.  For what purpose? There was hardly any purpose to have a stadium as big as that for athletics compared to putting a platform in Wembley. That is what I am talking about. Transport was not going to be a problem if there were no events to bring people into the stadium.

  (Mr Carter) By the time I was asked to do this the Wembley option was not there. Because time had passed the only thing that looked as if it could be delivered was Picketts Lock. I was focused on that and not looking at whether a platform worked in Wembley because the time for that had passed.

113.  You did say that the money saved on Picketts Lock should be used to develop athletics somewhere else. I was in the North East for the Great North Run and Gateshead has a great enthusiasm for athletics and the feeling is that events would be taken away to try and justify the sustainability of Picketts Lock. You seem to be saying that not building Picketts Lock saved money so there is extra money to spend. That is true in a way. It is like people say,"I did not buy that suit so I have saved money for something else." But if there was no need for the suit in the first place there was no need for the money to be saved. I am an athletics enthusiast. If you look at it from an athletics' point of view, athletics events and competition goes on between people who are enthusiastic about athletics. They need fairly small stadiums but they need training facilities and coaches. That is what you seem to be saying, that the money should be spent on that.

  (Mr Carter) That is absolutely right.

114.  Why do we ever get anywhere near saying we need a big stadium, a stadium that is large, expensive and unsustainable but not big enough for the Olympics?

  (Mr Carter) That is where I found myself in some difficulty because I could find no policy that said why we did these things. I do not know whether there is a policy to pursue major events and back them up financially or not and without that framework it is difficult for me to comment. Everything is taken one at a time.

115.  Could I mention one other point and not ask you to answer it necessarily. If it had not been for the attempted bid to get the World Cup in 2006—and Wembley, I think, played a big part in that because of the 1966 thing and everybody knew that the twin towers were going to be knocked down anyway—do you think that we would never have considered a massive expensive stadium had it not been for the World Cup bid? Do not answer it if you do not want to.

  (Mr Carter) That is difficult because I was not following events at the time of that bid so I am probably not qualified to offer you a view on that.

Mr Bryant

116.  You said earlier that one of the problems is we do not cost these bid projects properly and of course the Chairman has referred to other projects such as art galleries, although of course not all have succeeded. The Pop Museum in Sheffield has gone now and we are having difficulties with the Welsh Assembly Building and the Scottish Parliament Building. My question is is it possible nowadays to cost something properly, even the capital process? Every building that I have ever heard about that has been built anywhere in the world in the last ten years seems to have gone way over budget, including the spare room I built on my own house. Is there a problem in the building industry or where does the problem lie?

  (Mr Carter) I think there are a lot of buildings built in the private sector that do come in on price on time. That is a commercial fact. It seems more difficult in the public sector, that is for sure, and what the reasons for that are I am not altogether certain. It is just an observation but, on the other hand, there should be no reason why buildings should not be costed accurately and brought in on time, providing that there is a rigour in the process, in other words, people do not change things to other purposes. I think one has to make sure that the commercial case for any of these developments is so clear and it is signed up to at the beginning—it is amendments that make things difficult—and I do not know whether that rigour is lacking or what. I think it has got better in the public sector in my experience in recent years but there is possibly some way to go.

117.  In terms of Picketts Lock whether or not it was the right decision in the first place, the fact that the accommodation was going to be in a different place from originally conceived and, as I understand it, most of the events in the championships would be taking place at 6.30 in the evening to attract television viewers and therefore everybody would be travelling on the same lines as all the commuters in East London, did have a significant impact, but how do you draw the edges around the project?

  (Mr Carter) We need a better understanding of process. That is the answer to it. If you modelled it at the beginning you would have asked yourself those questions in the first place about infrastructure and transport. It is joining the model up, it is not dealing with it in a series of silos.

118.  You say in your report on page 5: "Manchester 2002, Paris and Athens could raise expectations and therefore specifications for 2005." What does that mean?

  (Mr Carter) I think something did occur in these big events from Sydney on. Sydney changed the way people perceived how these big events should be run, it upped the game. From thereafter if you were not going to be compared badly with Sydney you had to put more into it, your opening and closing ceremonies, the level of accommodation. Sydney did such a good job that it was probably the most seamless sporting event that has been developed and therefore by reference people would not want to fall dramatically short of that. That is what has pushed it on; standards have risen.

119.  Your suggesting that the closing event is an integral part makes me wonder what the successor to Kylie Minogue on a giant flip-flop will be in Sheffield.

  (Mr Carter) That is interesting to think about, yes.

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