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CABE acclaims Wembley design

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The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (cabe) has stepped into the controversy surrounding the proposed new £475 million Wembley stadium by wholly endorsing the much-criticised Foster and Partners- led design.

But the World Stadium design team - Foster's with hok+Lobb Sports - this week threatened to sue Ellerbe Becket, the us company responsible for a report criticising its plans. And in a major third twist, Wembley National Stadium Ltd (wnsl) will today present culture secretary Chris Smith with plans for a full-size warm-up track to be built next to the stadium. The facility would cater for occasional flagship events held at Wembley, and would itself later be developed into a mini-stadium for community use and smaller athletics events, seating 20,000, in time for the World Athletics Championships in 2005. The new scheme would appease the athletics lobby and prove a cost-effective way to stage events without the large stadium's massive conversion and running costs, but the move will also cause further controversy since it ultimately means asking for even more lottery money to pay for it. Wembley has already been given £120 million of lottery cash, while uk Athletics will also need to buy the necessary land at around £400,000 per hectare.

cabe's design review committee, which visited the drab north London site a fortnight ago, has this week written to the World Stadium Team to commend the scheme and proclaim its confidence that a 'world-class stadium will result'. The cabe letter says: 'The committee strongly supports this design... We believe that the way in which the design allows the stadium to be converted to use for a major athletics event makes good sense, in terms both of use and of economy.'

The design review panel did express concerns about the clarity and legibility of the roof's structural system, about elements of the external accommodation and about the poor pedestrian approaches to the stadium and access to rail links - as well as the nearby stations themselves. But Brent Council is looking at the environs, while the dcms has established a Wembley task force under Sir Nigel Mobbs to consider the area.

cabe's glowing approval is conspicuously at odds with the views of culture secretary Chris Smith (whose department is - ironically - responsible for cabe) who said the design was unfit to host the Olympics.

The view is also in stark contrast to the Ellerbe Becket report commissioned by the uk Sports Council, which alleged that the scheme was seriously flawed. The World Stadium Team has been angered by what it called the 'inconsistent' and 'factually inaccurate' report. Foster and Partners said the resultant media attention was also 'damaging to its credibility around the world.'

The new Wembley proposal is for a stadium seating 90,000 for football, featuring a 132m-high arch to the north. Much of the controversy around the scheme has been about the extent of available seating for athletics in a reconfigured stadium.

Foster and Partners has submitted yet another report as a rebuttal to that compiled by Ellerbe Becket, which Chris Smith is considering before an announcement scheduled for today.

Wembley spokesman Chris Palmer said a warm-up track, ideally abutting the new stadium, could cost around £20 million and was 'likely to be a lottery bid' to end up being a permanent national stadium for athletics in time for 2005. It would also have features for community benefit with Wembley contributing one per cent of its turnover for that purpose.

The new Wembley will be able to seat 67,500 for major athletics events like the Olympics but is likely to be used only three times in its entire lifetime for such events. The extra 'mini' stadium would ideally be designed by the same team, said Palmer, although an ojec notice may be necessary.

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