Future of London 2012 Olympic Stadium in doubt after judicial review granted

Wednesday, 24 August 2011
By Duncan Mackay in Daegu

London_2012_Olympic_Stadium_in_springAugust 24 - Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient have been granted permission to seek a judicial review into the awarding of ownership of the Olympic Stadium to West Ham United after London 2012 - a move that a senior official here warned could have a serious impact on Britain's bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships.

A High Court judge ruled there are sufficient grounds for a review into the process by which West Ham were unanimously chosen as the preferred bidder to take over stewardship of the arena by the Olympic Park Legacy Committee (OPLC).

The decision throws in question London's bid to stage the World Championships, for which the deadline is September 1.

Mr Justice Collins ruled that there was an "arguable" case for a legal challenge, which can now be mounted in a new, separate procedure which could take months to resolve.

The hearing is due to be heard in the High Court on October 18 - less than a month before the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) meet to decide the venue of the 2017 World Championships, where London are facing opposition from Barcelona and Doha.

Lamine Diack, the President of the IAAF, warned here that unless London can provide cast iron guarantees about the future of the Stadium then its bid would be in serious doubt and the fear among officials is that unless the case is resolved by the time of the vote on November 11 its bids is set to fail.

"I told the [Sport and Olympics] Minister [Hugh Robertson] when I was in London earlier this month you have to make sure you have guarantees if you bid on September 1," Diack told insidethegames after the IAAF Congress here.

"If you are not sure you have then you have to defend yourselves in front of [the IAAF] Council."

London_2012_Olympic_Stadium_with_Sebastian_Coe_and_Lamine_Diack_August_5_2011
Diack had previously told insidethegames during a visit to London, where he was shown around the Stadium by Sebastian Coe (pictured), that the IAAF's ruling Council would almost certainly reject a bid from London unless the future of the Stadium was secure following previous promises, including one by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, that had been broken.

The High Court has previously rejected legal moves from both Tottenham and League One club Leyton Orient, who fear they could lose supporters if West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium and begin offering cut-price tickets.

Tottenham argued that because the bid involved a £40 million ($66 million/€45 million) loan from Newham Council, West Ham had an unfair economic advantage, which amounted to "state aid".

Representing Tottenham, Dinah Rose QC, said that the future of the stadium was of "considerable public importance" as £486 million ($796 million/€552 million) of public money had been spent on building it.

"The question of what happens to it when the Games are over next summer is obviously a matter of very considerable importance as well as political sensitivity," she said.

"It is very important that the Stadium should be, and should be seen to be, lawfully disposed of after the Games are over."

The latest development means the decision-making process will now be reviewed, although the decision itself cannot, as yet, be overturned.

But if Tottenham and Orient's challenge succeeds then the whole process could have to be reopened.

Orient chairman Barry Hearn was delighted with the decision.

"The decision is a clear vindication of our determination to take legal action to right this injustice," he said.

"It is clear that the judge saw that there was a real case that the Newham loan to enable West Ham to win the bid was illegal."

Earlier this week, an independent review by forensic accountants Moore Stephens and commissioned by the OPLC concluded there was no reason to re-open the bidding process, despite allegations in The Sunday Times that a director of the agency, Dionne Knight, was paid by West Ham during the negotiations.

But Hearn believed the allegations played a part in Justice Collins' decision.

"The judge was also troubled by the fees paid by West Ham to an OPLC employee saying that this matter deserved further examination," he said.

"Along with our lawyers at Mishcon de Reya, we will continue to fight to the end to safeguard the future of our club - and if that means standing alone as the little guy against the powers that be in authority, then so be it.

"No-one has considered the impact on Leyton Orient of this move and it is not right that the legacy of what will be an amazing Olympic Games could be to put a family football club, with 130 years of history in its local community, out of business."

The battle may only just beginning, though.

Robertson has already made it known privately that if that should happen the parameters of the process will be amended so that whoever if successful they have to keep the running track in the Olympic Stadium.

Tottenham's proposal, submitted together with American entertainment giant AEG, included ripping up the track and instead redeveloping Crystal Palace as the athletics legacy of London 2012.

The decision was a dramatic end to a day that had started with Tottenham seemingly on the verge of a deal with London Mayor Boris Johnson to drop their legal case in return for financial help to move from their current ground at White Hart Lane and instead redevelop a site nearby at Northumberland Park.

Johnson had proposed to use almost half of the £20 million ($33 million/€23 million) given by the Government to rebuild riot-damaged Tottenham and Croydon to help the Premier League push through their plans for the new stadium.

Up to £8.5 million ($14 million/€9.7 million) of the money would have been used to help fund regeneration around the new stadium development, meaning that the planning application can finally go through.

Johnson also promised to use a series of incentives to help businesses relocate there which would have aided Tottenham's application.

Talks collapsed at the last minute, however, and Tottenham decided to push ahead with their request for a judicial review.

The fact it has been granted has strengthened their negotiating position with Johnson.

Baroness Margaret Ford, chair of the OPLC, remained confident despite the decision to grant a judicial review.

"We are delighted that Mr Justice Collins upheld all grounds relating to the Olympic Park Legacy Company's decision making process when recommending a preferred bidder," she said.

"We are disappointed that permission for a judicial review has been granted on some limited points but we are confident in our case."

A spokesman for Newham Council also claimed that they remained optimistic the original decision would not have to be changed.

"We note the proceedings in court today, where the Judge granted permission for a judicial review against Newham and the OPLC and others on only some of the grounds Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient had raised," they said.

"This merely means that he found those grounds to be at least arguable.

"Our bid is the best in terms of guaranteeing a lasting legacy for London and the country.

"This is an ongoing legal process and it would be inappropriate to comment on these claims further at this stage."

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