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Wembley takes lead in stadium race

The man responsible for deciding on the future of the national stadium is set to choose between emerging favourite Wembley and sites in Coventry and Solihull against a background of politicking from all sides. Patrick Carter, who is expected to present his final report to government around 20 August, has been quizzing representatives from the bidding sites on transport, funding, planning and the building teams involved.

But London mayor Ken Livingstone warned last week that if it does not go to the capital 'one of the world's largest urban redevelopment opportunities could be lost', along with 20,000 jobs and transport improvements worth £170 million.

And Solihull MP John Taylor launched a surprising broadside against the prospect of the stadium coming to the site next to Solihull's NEC, because it is 'precious' Green Belt, and he believes 'gridlock' would take hold of the M42.

Livingstone, who has stepped up the political pressure for London by launching an 'It's got to be Wembley' initiative with Sir Geoff Hurst, said last week: 'The knock-on effects of uncertainty over Wembley's bid could ruin the regeneration of the entire borough and put at risk 10,000 existing jobs and the opportunity to create 10,000 more.' He claimed that without the stadium, improved transport links and the pulling power of the Wembley name, strong interest from potential purchasers of the surrounding land would evaporate.

Wembley is also hoping that its position as the 20th most deprived local authority area in the UK will sway the government's desire to focus on the stadium as a regenerational landmark, and it is convinced that it presents the strongest transport case. It said that although its architects, Foster and Partners and HOK Lobb, are officially on hold, they have been on hand to answer Carter's questions about any cost-cutting amendments they could make to the design. The infamous moveable deck for athletics, for example, is adaptable, so the original £20 million it would cost to erect has been slashed. Foster and Partners proposes a scheme akin to the deck used at the recent Nelson Mandela concert in Trafalgar Square, costing £5 million to put up over six weeks, not three months.

Cuts to the stadium's 90,000 seats would also claw back money from the £600 million total cost and £326 million construction cost. The original Wembley plans also included a banqueting suite, which could go, and a 200-bed hotel which may be replaced by flats on site.

The Coventry bid - understood to be proposed as a massively-expanded 90,000 seater version of the RHWL-designed Arena 2001 scheme for Coventry City Football Club - may encounter problems as the host club has dropped out of the Premiership. But the city's Labour MPs are behind the scheme and council leaders have met sports minister Richard Caborn to explain the project.

Solihull's proposed home for the national stadium is on a greenfield site near the NEC in the 'Meriden Gap'. This could present problems, as planning rules say that if a greenfield site is chosen, it must be because no other brownfield site is available. Wembley and Coventry would argue that there is. John Taylor said the local M42 motorway was already 'hideously overloaded' - Crufts and the Motor Show at the NEC did not need international football crowds to compound the traffic chaos. But he felt that the national stadium should stay in the West Midlands - by going to Coventry. 'Wembley's time has passed, ' Taylor told the AJ.

Carter is also looking into the future of the Picketts Lock athletics stadium in north London.

FaulknerBrowns won a competition to design the stadium, but there is no commitment that it will be built; question marks surround its accessibility and viability. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said it had not decided on the order of announcements, but signs point to Picketts Lock being ruled out first. Carter will then look to Stratford, Crystal Palace and Greenwich, with Manchester as another possible venue for the 2005 world athletics championships.

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