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Wembley plays defensive over Brent cash threats

NEWS

The company battling to build the controversial new-look Wembley was adamant this week that it has complied with Brent Council's planning brief and does not expect to be refused planning permission when the authority deals with the £475 million project next month. But Brent insists that it refuses to be 'steamrollered' and has asked Wembley to stump up £30 million or risk a red card for the controversial redevelopment.

Wembley spokesman Chris Palmer said that, despite a press report last week, Brent has not warned the stadium developer that its application will be axed unless the company produces money for improving infrastructure to ease congestion.

'Brent has not made it clear to us that we've failed to meet any part of the planning brief, ' he said. 'We've met or exceeded it and have not been informed to the contrary'. Palmer added that the brief required that the planned 'clear-out' time for the 90,000 seater stadium is 90 minutes. Recent football games at the existing stadium have proved that they have not gone over 65 minutes and confidence is high that the new building will be along the same lines. Wembley cited the 1988 fa Cup Final, when 100,000 fans were at the stadium, as proof that the area can cope.

But Brent hit back, saying it has written to Wembley outlining its 'concerns'. These rest on wanting a 'contribution' clearly outlined in the 1998 planning brief of £30 million for section 106 improvements to the area's infrastructure and transport links.

'We've got our corner to hold as well,' said a spokesman. 'We're not chasing money, we just want to make sure it works'.

Brent says one key improvement needs to be made to the outdated Wembley Park railway station. A scheme to refurbish the station by Brookes Stacey Randall Fursdon (aj 11.1.96) never materialised and many suspect that London Underground channelled funds into the Jubilee Line Extension instead. Brent added that the council has a duty to local people to make sure that such a large development is 'safe, functions efficiently and has the minimum impact on local people'.

Another factor in the mix is the politically important 2006 World Cup bid, which may put the pressure on government rather than lul or Wembley to come up with the money. Football's ruling body fifa is unlikely to smile on such a bid if Wembley appears to be still locked in a planning dispute over the Lottery-backed project. It is set to decide in the next five months.

The application for the scheme being designed by the 'World Stadium Team' of Foster and Partners and hok Lobb runs to around 22 boxes full of details and will go to Brent's planning committee on either the 6, 13 or 20 April. So far, however, planners at the borough have not signalled whether they will recommend approval or rejection. If the scheme is nixed by planners, Wembley says it will simply lodge an appeal and push back its programme by around a year. This would mean that the new-look Wembley would be built in 2004 rather than 2003, but any resultant permission would not therefore come in time to sway fifa to award the World Cup 2006 to England and the event would go abroad.

Meanwhile, Wembley said it has now secured a banker in Chase Manhattan to arrange loans for the debt-financed deal. This may run to £355 million since the £120 million of lottery cash which Wembley won has been spent on the site.

The stadium project includes two glass-fronted buildings - one of them will be home to a 200 bed, four-five star hotel for Hilton, the other will run to around 10,000m2 of office space. Much of that space has been pre-let to the fa, which will move to Wembley from its current Lancaster Gate home.

The construction contract has also just been awarded, to Bovis Lend Lease Multiplex. And, again contrary to Evening Standard press reports last week, Wembley is obliged by the conditions of the lottery agreement to keep its name.

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