Olympic legacy: West Ham were handed the keys to the Olympic Stadium today in a move that one former minister branded “the biggest mistake” of the London Games.
Ex-sports minister Richard Caborn said that though he welcomed the fact that the future of the stadium was now settled, the cost to the public purse had been too high.
The deal will see the Premier League club pay just £15 million for a 99-year lease on the £600m stadium, which is set for a £150m facelift that should be complete in time for the 2016-27 season.
Caborn, who was sports minister at the time the design of the Olympic Stadium was agreed but campaigned unsuccessfully for it to be built with football in mind for the future, said: “This is the biggest mistake of the Olympics and lessons should be learned from this.
“West Ham are basically getting a stadium costing more than £600m for just £15m and a small amount in annual rent [£2m].”
He added: “I do welcome the fact that the future of the stadium has finally been secured, but we should also realise that the public sector is picking up the tab.
“The mistake was made in 2006/7 when they [the Olympic Board] ruled football out of a retro-fit design as we has done successfully in Manchester with the Commonwealth Games stadium.
“Time and again mistakes are made with Olympic Stadiums and the lessons should be learned for any future similar projects.”
The decision was also slammed by Leyton Orient owner Barry Hearn, who accused the London Legacy Development Corporation for the “massive, massive mistake” of granting West Ham anchor tenancy of the Olympic Stadium.
Hearn has been opposed to the Irons moving to the stadium, which is a stone’s throw from the Matchroom Stadium, home of League One outfit Orient.
And upon hearing of the decision, he revealed that he would be launching a judicial review in the High Court.
He said: “The LLDC have made a massive, massive mistake. They are my lawyer’s words and not mine, in as far as they have ignored their own rules so we are going to challenge that with a judicial review in the High Court.
“If we win then obviously discussions will be forced upon the LLDC and [London Mayor] Boris Johnson and everyone else and make sure they consider Leyton Orient.”
Those at West Ham hailed the move.
“It’s fantastic for everyone at West Ham United that at last all the club’s hard work over the past three years has paid off,” joint chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold said.
“Today’s decision offers us a real platform to do this and we are fully committed to making it a real success.”
Club skipper Kevin Nolan added: “This is the perfect opportunity to put this club in amongst the big boys and we have got to make sure now that we stabilise the club and make sure it is still a Premier League club and even fighting for European places by the time we move here.”
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