Blind Hammer looks at a strategy for resolving the Stadium issues.
At the time of writing the BBC are to about to broadcast yet another hostile program which will apparently demonstrate how West Ham is fleecing the tax payer.
It is increasingly obvious that there are issues around the financing of the Stadium deal, but it is also obvious that little if any of the responsibility for the difficulties can be laid at West Ham’s door. This piece may actually appear after the program but is written without sight of the issues they raise so you should read with this caveat in mind.
However it is likely that the program will focus on the Achilles heel of the stadium project, the cost of the construction and deconstruction of the retractable seating.
The issues about the retractable seating are likely to be complex in detail but can be summarised I believe as follows.
1. The original tender lodged by the successful company for delivering the retractable seating was incompetent and should never have survived the scrutiny of the LLDC bidding process. The company claiming to be able to deliver the movable seating collapsed under the ineptitude of their plan and went into liquidation.
2. The actual cost of delivering genuine retractable seating is apparently eye watering, involving, according to reports I have seen, major sums dealing with what is apparently still contaminated land underneath the Stadium.
3. The consequent situation is that instead of a retractable seating arrangement we have a Jerry rigged construction and de-construction project of building and taking down stands every year which according to Claret and Hugh now costs £8 million a year.
This is I believe, the heart of the claim that West Ham are benefiting from a “rent free” stadium, the cost of the moving of the retractable seating alone dwarfs the £2.5 million sum paid by West Ham for the Stadium.
This is also why the LLDC and Stadium Operators have apparently “invited” West Ham to contribute more.
There is however a major flaw both in this invitation to West Ham to pay more and the argument that the retractable seating are for West Ham’s benefit. The cold truth is that West Ham have absolutely no material or financial interest in the seating being retractable. As far as we and the club is concerned it would be far easier to build and maintain permanent structures rather than the current flexible Arrangements.
The sad but immutable truth is that it is the commitment to athletics which is at the heart of the need to provide retractable seating. I perfectly understand the national interest of the country as a whole to want to maintain a world class stadium for the purposes of international athletic events. In effect the Nation and the Tax payer have to provide an £8 million subsidy to the sport of Athletics and possibly in the future cricket for the purposes of running these events.
The only way that the Stadium is viable as a project is through the influx of the nearly 60,000 supporters who come to watch not Athletics but West Ham every fortnight during the football season.
What is completely absurd is to claim that West Ham is responsible for funding the National Commitment to Athletics.
There is, I believe, a way forward which should clarify matters. We know that originally West Ham bid to purchase the Stadium, but this bid, on course to successful completion was scuppered by the multitude of interests opposed to a successful West Ham in the new Stadium. Tottenham in particular were vigorous in their opposition to West Ham succeeding.
A restructured deal emerged which saw the present third party ownership model of the stadium with West Ham becoming not the owners of the Stadium but the “Anchor Tenants”.
This cumbersome tripartite arrangement of stakeholders is at the heart of many of the other problems which have affected settling into the Stadium. The arrangements where we have a multitude of strategic partners dilutes responsibility and will dog the Stadium for year whilst it persists.
The way forward is for West Ham to offer to take ownership of the Stadium again with a continuing commitment to honour the availability of the Stadium for Athletics and other events. Gold and Sullivan have been successful businessmen in the past and I am sure that the club have sufficient commercial experience to draw upon.
The funding of the Stadium conversion for Athletics becomes then an issue for National debate. For myself I believe the best approach would be to plan for a purpose built 30,000 seater Athletics / Cricket Stadium along the lines originally proposed. The current £8 million going into seating conversion could instead be directed into the construction of a smaller facility built elsewhere in the voluminous spaces available in the Olympic Park.
So the way forward is clear. West Ham has no interest in renegotiating the current deal to subsidise Athletics. However what we may have is a strategic opportunity to convert the current rental arrangements into stadium ownership along the lines of the original bid.
This would end for once and all the current confusion of responsibilities and replace the current bureaucratic nightmare of a Hodge podge of partners including LLDC, Newham Council French stadium operators and even Westfield to an extent. A single commercial drive to maximise the potential of the Stadium with West Ham at its heart could then be realised.
Da David Griffith