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National Stadium: keeps twin towers, but no retractable roof

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The developer of the new National Stadium at Wembley has all but ruled out a retractable roof for the £220 million building, because it may become a costly gimmick and because none of the sporting bodies which are set to use it want one.

'I think our attitude is that we can't put up a business case for it and none of the event runners want it,' said Bob Heaver, a director of the English National Stadium Development Company. 'They've become a bit of a fashion.'

The 80,000-seater stadium, which will provide facilities for football, rugby league and athletics, was granted £120 million of Sports Lottery money - £21.5 million of it used thus far - and is to be designed by an architect chosen by competitive interview from three (aj 2.4.98) by the end of this month. Interviews have already taken place with the shortlisted teams - thought to be Arup Associates; Michael Hopkins and Partners; and Foster and Partners/hok/Lobb Partnership. But in what is a very hush-hush campaign, considering that public money is involved, the English National Stadium Trust (enst) has refused to confirm even this, despite employing the riba's competitions office to run the interview process.

A retractable roof would have increased costs by around £25 million, but retractable tiers of seating on permanent trackways, costed at less than £5 million extra, are likely to figure in the winning team's final design.

English Heritage is expected to grant permission for the listed stadium to be demolished, except for the famous twin towers. Paul Velluet, head of eh's central and west London team, said the towers and link block should be retained and not dwarfed by a new stadium built 'to the highest standards' around them. The pitch level could be dropped by 4.5m, he said, to ensure their prominence. Moving the towers would be difficult because of their fine concrete structure.

Last week the enst bought Wembley for £103 million, putting paid to a rival - and higher - bid from Arsenal fc, to make it their home ground. It is believed that Wimbledon fc, often linked to a move to Dublin, in turn would have liked to move to Arsenal's current ground at Highbury had that deal gone through. Now Arsenal is looking elsewhere in the capital, although King's Cross is now thought unlikely given the Channel Tunnel rail link uncertainty.

The enst hopes to win planning consent for the National Stadium by autumn, appoint a main contractor in early 1999, begin demolition that June, and hold its first event in the new stadium in early 2002.

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