Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport First Report



The decision not to proceed with Picketts Lock

Making a decision

In oral evidence before us on 23 October the Secretary of State spoke of the extreme "alarm" that she and the Minister for Sport, The Rt Hon Mr Richard Caborn MP, had felt on first being briefed on the situation regarding Picketts Lock in June 2001.[71] Tessa Jowell described her view of Picketts Lock at that stage as "a project in some difficulty".[72] This is in marked contrast to the evidence given by the former Secretary of State and the former Minister for Sport just three months previously. At that time Mr Smith said, in relations to the funding shortfall, that "There is considerable interest ... from the private sector, and I have every confidence that that gap will be bridged."[73] He went on to say of the project "I am very confident that it will go ahead. I do not think that necessarily involves making a specific commitment at this precise moment."[74]

It was the fact that the capital funding shortfall was not dealt with that put the succeeding Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the driving seat. Ministers are not, and ought not to be, responsible for deciding the sustainability of applications for Lottery funding. That duty falls to Sport England (and the grounds on which that body takes decisions have been set out many times in evidence to the Committee: eligibility of the applicant; expressed demand for the project; technical feasibility; viability (financial and otherwise); value for money; legacy for sport).[75] The National Athletics Centre proposed at Picketts Lock, and the hosting of the 2005 WAC, however, involved a range of challenges beyond the development of the site; this is invariably the case with such projects and events (for example the National Stadium at Wembley and the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games). When the formal Lottery grant application fell due for consideration by Sport England, Picketts Lock appeared to require direct Government funding to bridge the funding gap and this put the decision on its progress in the hands of the new Secretary of State assisted by the conclusions of Patrick Carter's review.

Grounds for the decision

Given the position taken by the previous Committee on Picketts Lock, the present Committee agrees with the decision of the new Secretary of State not to proceed with the project. We were at a loss, however, to identify what had shifted the Government from "confidence" to "alarm" between March and June of 2001 other than a change in personnel at the top of the DCMS. As stated above, the previous Committee had set out in March 2001 a list of major concerns that it had identified from its evidence on the Picketts Lock proposals—to which the Government provided no response in advance of the conclusions of Patrick Carter's review in August which matched them very closely.[76] However, nearly everyone else involved with the project, including the Lee Valley RPA itself and Sport England, was also talking and writing to the DCMS about these self-same issues for almost the whole period in which the project was being claimed as viable by Ministers.[77] Lee Valley and Sport England were looking for clarity from Government over its intentions as well as action to back up its stated commitment to the project.[78] Neither appeared to be forthcoming.

As we set out above, the pre-selection analysis undertaken by Sport England identified most of these issues as significant risks in going forward with the selection of Picketts Lock for the 2005 WAC. This confirms Sir Rodney Walker's evidence to us that, with respect to Picketts Lock: "I think most of us who have been largely observers of these matters over the last year or two have had a concern that on a value for money basis it was always going to be difficult to justify a separate stand-alone athletics stadium, because the associated infrastructure costs were always there. They cannot have come as any surprise to anyone ... I suppose the only surprise might be, if there was never a commitment to spend that amount of money, it is a shame it has taken so long to come to the decision".[79]

In their respective submissions Sport England and the Department offer slightly varying interpretations of the grounds on which the final decision was taken. Sport England wrote that the Carter report "reflected and endorsed our strong reservations as to the viability of the project and whether it could demonstrate clear value for money when set against the many other demands on the Lottery Sports Fund. It also highlighted other important issues not specifically relevant to our processes, but that still put serious question marks over the project`s viability. These included the transport infrastructure surrounding the site and finding local facilities for athletes' accommodation."[80]

The Government's evidence places much more weight on the "serious risk that the necessary improvements to the transport infrastructure would not be made in time, and that athletes' accommodation would not be available within a reasonable distance of Picketts Lock."[81] In addition, the Government's belated reply to the Committee's Report on Staging International Sporting Events—submitted at the same time as their evidence to this inquiry—states that: "Patrick Carter's conclusions on the risks to the likely delivery of the necessary transport infrastructure improvements in time for the 2005 Championships was one of the principal reasons why the Government and Sport England decided that the project was not sustainable."[82]

We are not in a position to second guess the work of the Carter review but evidence from the Lee Valley RPA and London 2005 (the organising committee) questions the emphasis put on transport and accommodation issues in his report (and consequently by the DCMS). Lee Valley argues that the transport strategy developed for them by consultants Oscar Faber did not rely on either the provision of a new rail station at the site or additional tracks as envisaged as part of the West Anglia Route Modernisation programme (WARM); these were put down as potential future enhancements.[83] Mr Bill Glad, General Secretary of London 2005, drew attention to the fact that the shuttle bus system (between distant car parks and existing rail stations and the stadium) was used successfully in Edmonton at this year's WAC and will be used for the next Ryder Cup postponed till next year.[84]

With regard to the accommodation issue Mr Glad wrote that, far from being a problem, the athletes' accommodation would have been "a highlight" of the championships, claiming first rate single room accommodation and an attractive array of amenities (both sporting and diverting) on or close to the campus of Hertfordshire University. He challenged the drive-time estimated by the Carter review team of 40 minutes between campus and stadium, asserting that a worst-case drive took 27 minutes meeting the unwritten target for such events which is half an hour.[85] UK Athletics pointed out in evidence that although the original single 'village' at Tottenham Hale had not come about, Middlesex University had offered the required number of beds on a combination of sites, providing a 'local option'.[86]

We fail to see any justification for the shift in the Government's position on Picketts Lock, from confidence to alarm, between March and June 2000. The grounds for the Secretary of State's decision to abandon the project were all identified as serious challenges from the very start of the assessment process and were fully set out in the previous Committee's Report. Much effort was put into dealing with them by the Lee Valley project team. These difficulties were also the subject of consistent requests for clarity and action from Government from Lee Valley, Sport England and others until the project was dropped.

As far as we can see the shift in policy arose when a Secretary of State who was inexplicably wedded to the project was replaced by one who was not.

Alternatives to Picketts Lock


The Government put forward Sheffield to the IAAF as its preferred venue for the 2005 WAC in the UK on 5 October based on Patrick Carter's assessments of various options. These have not been published but were submitted to us on a confidential basis. We believe that Sheffield has the potential to host an excellent championships based on the evidence from the City Council itself which sets out its track record. We trust that the IAAF will view the Government's offer seriously, taking into account the increased certainty and value for money inherent in the city's existing facilities.

The Government's offer was, nevertheless, against the advice coming from sporting bodies in the form of at least UK Sport, the agency with responsibility for attracting and staging major sporting events, and UK Athletics, the relevant sport's governing body.[87] However, the Secretary of State told us that, when she forewarned the IAAF Chief Executive of the review commissioned from Patrick Carter, "It was my sense, and I would not in any way hold the IAAF to this, that the possibility of a non­London option was not one on which the door was firmly closed."[88] Mr David Hemery, President of UK Athletics, told us, on the other hand, that at the meeting with the IAAF on 5 October "A fairly cold comment from the President of the IAAF was, "Sheffield will not get that games"."[89] Tessa Jowell also pointed out that, of the last four championships, only one has been in a capital city.[90] If, however, one looks back to the beginning of the championships in 1983, the ratio becomes 50/50[91] and, with respect to future plans, UK Sport told us that it "was well aware of the IAAF's strategy to see its world championships hosted in a series of major world cities as part of their global marketing plan in association with new sponsors."[92]

UK Athletics expressed concern over the value of the legacy that would be left from staging the World championships there. The organisation notes that the Don Valley Stadium already has over-capacity based on the evidence of attendance at events staged in the late 1990s.[93]

If a Sheffield bid or, let alone a Sheffield championships, is to go forward, careful budgeting, including adequate contingency provision, must prevail. Sheffield City Council originally estimated the cost of upgrading the Don Valley Stadium, to the same specifications as proposed for Picketts Lock, as £20 million. We were surprised when this estimate rose by £4 million during discussions in oral evidence of the number of seats that were required by the IAAF.[94]

We asked Sheffield City Council whether it was prepared to pursue a competitive bid for the championships or whether it was a case of only pushing at an open door. We were reassured to some extent by the response that: "In making a decision to go forward with a bid there will need to be consultation and agreement with DCMS, UK Athletics, Sport England, UK Sport and Sheffield. There will need to be a clear understanding of the requirements for making a bid and an assessment of the realistic chances of winning it. Once this has been determined a joint decision would need to be made."[95] However, such an approach has not characterised the UK's efforts in respect of the 2005 WAC so far.

We conclude that, in switching from Picketts Lock to Sheffield as the venue for the 2005 championships, the Government has traded one risk for another. With Picketts Lock the perceived risk was of an expensive and possibly problematic event. With Sheffield as the venue the risk is more straightforward—that IAAF policy on what it defines as world class cities could lose UK the championships.

We support the decision to offer the IAAF a venue for the 2005 championships. However, in the light of our evidence, we would regard it as seriously unwise for any further expenditure from central funds to be made in advance of a careful and realistic assessment of Sheffield's chances of success in an open competition for the event.


In view of the previous Committee's past work and the weight of evidence that London, and London alone, would be an acceptable venue for the championships, we invited WNSL and their architects, the World Stadium Team, to update us on developments at Wembley in relation to athletics. As mentioned above, the athletics platform has been significantly further developed and now appears to fulfil the previous Committee's prediction that it be a model for future projects.

Should the original stadium design go ahead at Wembley in due course it will remain capable of this conversion. As we have set out, actually removing the potential for an athletics platform would entail a prohibitively onerous and costly redesign process and new planning permission. In the light of this we asked whether, even at this late stage, a national stadium at Wembley could be ready in time for the 2005 championships. Mr Rod Sheard of the World Stadium Team told us that the build period was 39 months so it was "technically feasible". Mr Roger Maslin, Finance Director of WNSL, told us that the risks involved in such a timetable were just too great for anyone to underwrite delivery.[96] We recall a similar statement from Sir Rodney Walker, as Chairman of WNSL, to the previous Committee in March of this year.[97]

Mr Patrick Carter is reviewing the national stadium issue following the collapse of the project's financing arrangements and the call of the Football Association upon Government for further public funds. The Secretary of State told us on 23 October that "the first decision that needs to be taken is by the FA and is whether they want a national stadium".[98] She insisted that she would take the process one step at a time and could not say more.

On 25 October 2001 a consortium called "Genesis" submitted a memorandum to the Committee summarising a proposal, previously mentioned in the press, for a 90,000 seat football stadium on the Wembley site able to stage athletics as well. The consortium state that their proposal is fully-funded and claim that it could be completed in time to host the 2005 championships.[99]

The stadium is designed by DLA/Ellerbe Becket, the source of the report that scuppered the original design in December 1999, and retains the existing twin towers motif with a combination of retractable and removable seating to enable athletics events to be staged in front of a crowd of about 46,000 spectators. The consortium state that the design has the approval of the IAAF in writing and that the federation "are still waiting to hear news that the Championships can be hosted in London".[100] We note that a capacity for athletics of 46,000 meets the IAAF's requirements, but falls some way short of the explicit capacity set in the relevant Lottery Funding Agreement, of 65,000, and Olympic aspirations, which emerged subsequently, of 80,000 spectators.

Supplementary evidence from Sir Rodney Walker reveals that he had twice met the Consortium to discuss their proposals and, although in no way a sponsor of the plan, he felt he had no alternative but to then present copies to the FA and Government.[101] We expect the Government, in its response to this Report, to set out in full its conclusions in respect of this late arrival to the Wembley party.

We recommend that, if Sheffield is rejected by the IAAF and the UK loses the 2005 championships, then the Government should consider seriously whether there is a last opportunity to return to the original strategy of a national stadium at Wembley for football, rugby and major athletics events. Without this it seems clear that there will be no venue for athletics in London capable of staging the World Championships, or the Olympics, and therefore little prospect of attracting these events to the capital for the foreseeable future. We recognise that this would be a bold and controversial step involving significant consultation and negotiation with all relevant bodies which might well cut across the maturing work of Patrick Carter on behalf of Government. Nevertheless, we believe that the original Wembley concept was, and remains, a highly commendable plan; knocked off course by hasty decisions arising from a lack of co-ordination between long term Olympic ambitions and more immediate priorities.

Implications of the decision on Picketts Lock

International reputation

The evidence from many of our witnesses was that the potential damage to the UK's credibility in making future bids for international events was considerable. UK Sport, whose chief responsibility is the attraction of major events to the country, was in fact the most sanguine, pointing out that 85 different sports are involved, each with a range of championships at world, European and Commonwealth levels of varying size and significance. UK Sport highlighted that a successful World Indoor Championships in Athletics to be staged at Birmingham in 2003 would be "critical" for the UK's reputation within the IAAF and across sport generally.[102]

However, UK Sport made the point that, where competition for an event is stiff, the UK's competitors would be able to use the history of Picketts Lock "to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the decision makers ... especially true if an event requires new facility construction or transport infrastructure improvements."[103] Any competition to host the summer Olympics would certainly fall into this category and the BOA told us that "the decision to sacrifice the World Athletics Championships is extremely unhelpful".[104]

Implications for public funds

The cancellation of the National Athletics Centre at Picketts Lock, taken together with the removal of athletics from a Wembley national stadium, has apparently left athletics in the UK bereft of any legacy investment for the sport and without the capacity to host an event such as the World Championships. In the words of UK Athletics "Following the decision to cancel the Picketts Lock project, UK Athletics is left without a venue for the World Championships and without a legacy for the sport."[105] Even if Sheffield is successful in its bid for the 2005 games, UK Athletics is doubtful about the legacy that an improved Don Valley Stadium would represent. In concluding their evidence UK Athletics wrote, however, that "We are working closely with both DCMS and Sport England to define a substantial capital and revenue legacy investment package for the development of all levels of athletics in this country, and we look forward to a joint announcement on this in early December."[106]

The outcome of the Picketts Lock saga in terms of public expenditure and Lottery funding has then yet to unfold. The Government has confirmed to the Committee that development work on Picketts Lock cost £2 million, 0.5 million of which was funded by the Lee Valley PRA (about 5% of its annual budget) with the balance, £1.5 million, coming from Sport England (drawn down from the total Lottery fund envelope of £67 million). Feasibility work is a legitimate part of the development of large projects but it is particularly galling for £1.5 million of Lottery money to be expended in this way when calls on the Fund are so many and fewer lottery tickets are being sold.[107] The Lee Valley RPA has written to the Government asking for compensation for expenditure incurred on Picketts Lock and the Secretary of State is giving "very careful consideration" to this.[108] We note evidence from the London Borough of Enfield asking for consideration of an equivalent request.[109]

Other budgets have been brought into play and there was an indicative allocation of £8 million from the Capital Modernisation Fund for Picketts Lock. It is likely that £4 million of that funding will stay with Lee Valley.[110] The authority may justifiably feel that this grant has been earned but we would be concerned if damage were done to the aims and strategy of the CMF in the name of compensation or sympathy for Lee Valley, however much this may be deserved.

We recommend that the Government, in replying to this Report, set out in full the direct, indirect and associated expenditures of public money arising out of the cancellation of Picketts Lock, including such items as the legacy investments referred to by UK Athletics and the compensation sought by Lee Valley and Enfield Council.

71  Q 219. Back

72  Q 214. Back

73  HC 286-II, 2000-01, Q 462. Back

74  Ibid, Q 464. Back

75  See for example, Ev, p 49. Back

76  See HC 286, 2000-01, paras 137-144 and Ev, p 26. Back

77  See Ev, pp 89, 90, 91, 129, 131-132, and 119-120. Back

78  See for example Ev, pp 90 and 131 (annex 2). Back

79  Q 137. Back

80  Ev, p 57, 193. Back

81  Ev, p 65. Back

82  Cm 5288. Back

83  Ev, p 95. Back

84  Ev, p 116. Back

85  IbidBack

86  Ev, p 41. Back

87  Ev, pp 34, 42 and 111. Back

88  Q 215. Back

89  Q 165. Back

90  Q 241. Back

91  WAC hosts (capital cities in italics): Helsinki (1983), Rome (1987), Tokyo (1991), Stuttgart (1993), Göteborg (1995), Athens (1997), Seville (1999), Edmonton (2001). Back

92  Ev, p 34 and see p 103. Back

93  Ev, p 42. Back

94  Q 14. Back

95  Ev, p 105. Back

96  QQ 59, 73, 74. Back

97  HC 286-II, 2000-01, Q 60. Back

98  Q 234. Back

99  Ev, p 102. Back

100  Ibid, p 103. Back

101  Ev, p 109. Back

102  Ev, p 110. Back

103  IbidBack

104  Ev, p 84. Back

105  Ev, p 41. Back

106  Ev, p 43. Back

107  Q 187. Back

108  HC Deb, 31 October 2001, C757w. Back

109  Ev, p 102. Back

110  Ev, p 91. Back

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Prepared 20 November 2001