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Athletics bodies race for London Olympics venue

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The government last week drew up a list of nine possible sites for a 50,000-seat athletics stadium in London after rejecting demands from mps that the new Wembley stadium becomes the centrepiece of London's bid for the 2005 World Athletics Championships.

The department of culture, media and sport, Sport England and uk Athletics have produced a hit list of sites including Hillingdon, Crystal Palace, Twickenham, Cricklewood, the Lea Valley and the former greyhound track at Hackney Wick. Officials are courting developers and landowners this week and a shorter list will be produced next week. The uk Athletics chairman has been told he has £60 million to spend.

The move comes after a parliamentary culture, media and sport committee last week called for the secretary of state, Chris Smith, to reverse his decisions to ban athletics from Wembley and build a new athletics stadium in the capital. The search for sites is further confirmation that Smith is standing firm on this policy despite the damning verdict of the committee's 140-page report into his handling of plans for Wembley Stadium.

The committee attacked the government's decision to abandon plans for athletics at Wembley as a knee-jerk reaction and Tory mps called for his resignation over the issue while giving full backing to the plans drawn up by Foster & Partners and hok + Lobb.

The architects' plan to install a temporary platform for athletics was described as a 'commendable and innovative solution' by the committee. It also said that the design could provide a template for future projects. But Smith described the committee's suggestion that athletics be restored to the scheme as 'foolish' and said that the platform solution would cost £40 million to implement.

A spokesman for Foster & Partners welcomed the report but hit back at Smith: 'Chris Smith's criticisms of the cost and assembly of the athletics deck are based on mis-information.'

'Smith seems to be saying that everyone is out of step except him,' said hok + Lobb project director, David Elder.

In particular the committee attacked Smith's unscientific approach to analysing the plan for a multi-purpose stadium. 'There is so much scientific back-up to the design that we believe this should have taken priority over hunches,' committee chairman Gerald Kaufman said.

Smith was attacked for his hasty decision, relying on the contents of an independent report into the stadium design produced by us architects Ellerbe Becket. The committee pointed out that Wembley's owners, funding body Sport England and the British Olympic Association were given only 30 minutes to read the report before Smith made a statement to the House of Commons, using its contents to justify excluding athletics.

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