Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr John Bicourt, John Bicourt Associates

  In any consideration of Crystal Palace as the preferred London site for a World Athletic Championships, it can be seen that any investment to raise the stadium to the required standard and capacity is and was always better justified than the Picketts Lock project due to its far lower cost, its position, long established international athletics history, other sport, entertainment and mass public use, together with its far greater continuing and potential long term value to London and the immediately surrounding communities and counties. Picketts Lock would have been a very expensive "one off" event only and would have been mothballed shortly afterwards. Crystal Palace will be used by various interests throughout each year for as long as it can stand—that justifies it.


  With the (very predictable) demise of Wembley and now Picketts Lock, as a so-called legacy for British Athletics, London and the nation have not only lost yet another prestigious global sporting event but through lack of foresight and understanding by those responsible we are as a country internationally embarrassed and discredited.

  Unless those responsible wake up and act quickly to re-establish London's award of the World Athletics Championships for 2005 we will have severely damaged, for a very long time, any opportunity for a global sporting event to come again to these shores.

  The proposal by the government for the Championships to be transferred to Sheffield is quite definitely doomed because it is abundantly clear that the IAAF will not countenance any other city in the UK other than the one originally awarded the Championships.

  This government, Sport England and UK Athletics seem not to accept the condition implicit in the IAAF award that London and only London will retain the 2005 World Athletic Championships for the UK. It is, therefore, fruitless to imagine (especially after last weekend's well publicised embarrassing approaches by Richard Caborn to the IAAF President, Lamine Diack) that the Championships can possibly be moved to Sheffield. They may be allowed to bid after 25 November along with other contenders, but the public needn't hold its breath.

  I pointed out in a letter, over a year ago, to the then Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, that Picketts Lock was never going to succeed for all the reasons now apparent. Further, that unless another London venue was put forward in time for the Championships confirmation deadline (25 November) then Berlin or Brussels, having both offered their cities, would be handed the event once the Picketts Lock project was finally recognised to be another costly Dome, badly situated and incapable of justifying its existence after the Championships. It was inevitable that it would be abandoned by the government as it now has been, despite the election promises!

  What is staring everyone in the face is that the only realistic alternative for retaining the 2005 World Athletics Championship (short of demolishing the Dome)* is Crystal Palace. A venue wholly acceptable to the IAAF providing that the necessary standards of facility are guaranteed to be completed. The government has a responsibility not to evade this solution.

  Patrick Carter's independent report for Sport England did consider an unrealistic, over-ambitious bid earlier this year by Bromley Council (the owners of the site) proposing Crystal Palace Stadium which at the time was rejected (but not necessarily for substantiated, valid reasons in principle). Nonetheless, a newly revised bid should be immediately invited from Bromley together with the already proposed co-operation of the adjoining boroughs of Croydon, Lambeth and Southwark, all of whom have a great deal to offer the Championships and their respective communities as a consequence of a successful enterprise.

  Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, has been the home of British international athletics for the last 37 years. Incomparably situated in 200 acres of beautiful historic (and sportingly historic) parkland high above the pollution of the City of London. Over the years it has staged every major athletic event in Britain (barring the heavily criticised World Student Games held in Sheffield). It has hosted the World Cup and the Europa Cup Final. Each year it boasts the British International and IAAF Grand Prix (the very successful showpiece for British Athletics) and countless other sports and other major events plus a twice yearly pop concert attended by over 40,000 spectators. Even the Pope held audience in the stadium in front of 40,000 one summer Sunday. Of course, now the stadium and facilities are "tired" and in need of renewing and modernising but that is already happening everywhere around in the Park and with the other Sport England facilities (except for the stadium!?).

  With the will of all parties involved and the finance promised by the government a new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose international stadium with a capacity for 40,000 can be achieved on the same footprint as the existing stadium and within an acceptable budget. Additionally, the magnificent listed sports hall can easily house the media centre.

  We brought London architects Ivan Starkin Associates and renown structural engineers, Ove Arup and Partners together to come up with a design over three years ago which was featured in the London Evening Standard at the time. We put proposals to the then Sports Minister, Tony Banks (who never even replied) despite all his "guff" in the press about saving Crystal Palace. We also met with Bromley Council's Director of Leisure, Robbie Stoakes, who despite sceptical initial interest consistently blocked proposals for the redevelopment of the stadium citing parking and infrastructure as the problem, but then decided to propose (hypocritically and quite unrealistically) a 100,000 seater stadium for a "one-off 10 day event".

  Crystal Palace Sports Centre and Park has several main access points around its perimeter and criticisms concerning exit times and parking are unfounded even with only the main entrance in use. Wimbledon Tennis Championships (held in a similar radial position to central London as Crystal Palace) is attended by approximately 40,000 each day on a site far smaller than here. Yet they are incredibly successful at staging their event annually with a transport infrastructure far inferior to Crystal Palace. None of the major football stadiums in London or around the country have spectator parking yet week in and week out hundreds of thousands of soccer fans manage to attend their games. Even one of the most highly successful and visitor enjoyable Olympic Games (Barcelona '92) had no spectator parking facilities. We have specifically stated in our proposals the importance of Crystal Palace as a "green" site emphasising the available public transport system.

  Twenty one million pounds has been confirmed already for the complete refurbishment of Sport England's facilities here (but not to include the stadium). Six million pounds has been spent on a nearly completed restoration and regeneration of the surrounding parkland (with ample space for a temporary warm up track). Four million pounds has been spent on the complete restoration of the magnificent Victorian railway station that is situated by the Park and is served with direct trains from Victoria and London Bridge and comprehensively linked to the entire National rail network including the London Underground and London's airports at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead. A brand new 14-route bus terminal has been built parallel to the top site. Most of the town of Crystal Palace and its historic buildings are within a conservation area and there are abundant restaurants, cafes and pubs. Croydon and the adjoining boroughs and the main body of London offer all required hotel, recreational, eating and shopping facilities within reasonable reach.

  The proper establishment of Crystal Palace as the site for the 2005 World Championships in Athletics would be welcomed by the IAAF and would give London the global sporting event it was promised. (Istvan Gyulai the IAAF General Secretary expressed his surprise to me last weekend during the IAAF World half marathon championship in Bristol) that Crystal Palace was not proposed and added that he personally always liked the venue).

  This government has an obligation to the public and to the sport to honour its promise to ensure the facility for the World Championships is built. Hosting an inspirational and globally watched World Championships, as the nation expected, in one of the greatest capital cities in the world, is what the country needs. This would be the real legacy for Britain's athletes and the nation: the rebuilding of London's only major spectator athletics stadium at a world famous venue and stunning Heritage site.

  UK Athletics also has a duty to honour its obligation to the sport and the IAAF to do all in its power to pursue what appears to be the only realistic avenue left and not to be brought off with an offer from the government (not guaranteed of receiving "compensation" money to "develop the grass roots", a proposal which will be met with great scepticism by the sport not least of all because of UK Athletics' already heavily funded failure to date to halt the decline in our performance standards.

  This country desperately needs the World Championships to help create the impetus for improvement and motivation for our existing and future aspiring international athletes, not a compensatory amount of money from the government which many would see as mainly going to further increase the growing number of ineffectual posts within UK Athletics.

  If we do finally fail to secure the Championships (having been awarded them) then it is certain that the media will continue for a long time to castigate those responsible.

  * This government and its predecessor lost the greatest ever opportunity for Britain to stage a World Cup Soccer Championship and even an Olympic Games when it failed to grasp the real potential for the Greenwich Millennium site and instead erected an "amusement tent" that lasted only a year at a cost to the public of over £1 billion pounds.

17 October 2001

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Prepared 20 November 2001