Lord wants Orient in Olympic Stadium and says West Ham row like ‘children in the playground squabbling’
PUBLISHED: 00:01 18 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:38 18 November 2013
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Leyton Orient should be allowed to use the Olympic Stadium, peers said, as they branded Government plans to make the most of London’s staging of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as “unconvincing”.
The future of the showpiece £429 million multi-use stadium, which is to be the home of West Ham United, has been marked by legal wrangles and controversy, with fellow east London club Leyton Orient as the Hammers’ main rivals.
Lord Harris, chairman of the House of Lords Committee on London 2012’s legacy, urged West Ham and Orient to stop acting like “children in the playground squabbling over who goes down the slide first as far as the stadium is concerned”.
He said the stadium is a “national asset that should be used to the full” but there could have been “too many closed minds” about all the potential options for how the venue could be used.
The Hammers are anchor tenants under a 99-year lease for the stadium. The 80,000-capacity venue is to be transformed into a 54,000-seat stadium in time for the 2016-17 season.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: “The Government remains committed to building on the legacy created from hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to benefit the entire country for generations to come.
“Our legacy has been hailed by the International Olympic Committee as a ‘blueprint’ for future Games and over the next 10 years we aim to use the inspiration of 2012 to deliver lasting change in sport, communities, the economy, east London and awareness and perceptions around disability.”
Pop concerts, community use, Rugby World Cup 2015 matches and the 2017 World Athletics Championships are all set to take place there.
Orient, who want a ground share, applied for a judicial review at the High Court into how the decision was made to allow West Ham sole tenancy, but were refused.
The continuing rows over the stadium have been a “disappointing distraction”, the committee said.
“We urge those concerned to think further on how the two most local football clubs might work together, including whether any difficulties can be ameliorated through wider community use of the stadium, which may include its occasional use by Leyton Orient FC if appropriate financial arrangement can be agreed.”
Bad blood between the two clubs could potentially damage the chance to motivate children in the inner city region.
In its report - Keeping The Flame Alive - the committee argued: “We are concerned that the central point is being missed - the stadium is a national asset and the focus should be on making the best use of it for the community and the taxpayer.
“There is also the issue of the important morale and leadership role two successful football clubs can have in their local community, particularly in encouraging the motivation and aspirations of less-motivated children in education.”
Lord Harris said: “Frankly we found it unedifying watching what was essentially children in the playground squabbling over who goes down the slide first as far as the stadium is concerned.
“Our feeling is that the stadium is a national asset. There has been very substantial investment in the facilities. Given that this is a national asset and the focus should be on making the best use of it for the community, this squabble is not helpful.
“At the moment our concern is that there are too many closed minds about this. “
Whether the stadium could be used for some Orient matches is “something that needs to be looked at properly”, Lord Harris suggested, adding that “at the moment I think all we have heard is people’s negotiating position rather than a serious attempt to reach a compromise”.
The committee said it is “unconvinced” that the Government’s current plans to deliver a legacy in an effective and robust way will work.
Time frames and targets are confused and the political drive which helped to make the Games a success has now fallen by the wayside.
A Government minister should be given overall responsibility for all strands of legacy across the UK to try to tackle this problem, it was recommended.
The peers claimed there is also “little evidence” that the Games, which pledged to inspire a generation, have triggered a boost in participation across the UK.
Efforts to increase the availability of adequate facilities and specialist coaches need to be made, it was suggested.
The committee also found that UK Sport helped steer Team GB towards more medals with its “no-compromise” approach to backing performance but said this has “an inherent bias” against team sports and fails to help emerging sports including handball and volleyball, which gained new interest at London 2012.
“It is not a one-size-fits-all approach for all sports, and we make the case for a different approach to be applied to developing sports which have less prospect of short-term medal success,” Lord Harris noted.
The committee did not find any white elephants in the staging of the London 2012 Games but said there has been “only limited progress” in areas such as sports participation, transport, volunteering and regeneration.
The peers also called on the Government to publish figures setting out the true net economic benefit of hosting the Games.
They also said the Government, VisitBritain and others should work to ensure that the longer-term economic benefits of the Games are felt outside southern England, where legacy benefits are currently less obvious.
Other recommendations included calling for the Department for Transport to take proper ownership of securing international train services at Stratford International station, in order to generate a return on the substantial investment made in the station.