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Impressing the selectors

News analysis: National stadium

As the debate over the future and possible location of the national stadium for England rumbles on, Alan Sparks looks at the relative merits of each option.

The government's opinion on the site of the new national stadium for England has been the loudest heard, but essentially it is the Football Association (FA) which will have to decide if and when the stadium would be built.

The next question is, where should this be of the three contenders; the original Wembley site, Birmingham or the dark horse, Coventry.

The Wembley site was initially favoured over Birmingham before grinding to a halt because of an over-reliance on public funding.

Now assessing the issues of the new stadium for the government, which is determined to influence the outcome, is businessman Patrick Carter.

Coventry joined the race as Carter began his task, believing the stadium it had already planned for its football team could be expanded to meet the brief.

Its backers are fighting on the grounds that the real debate is between London and the Midlands, and they believe they are in a marginally better position than Birmingham.

Both Midlands bids are at a much more basic level than the Wembley proposal, but Carter's assesment is expected to judge more on the merits of support infrastructure than on stadium design details.

The Wembley site is owned by the FA and the choice of any other location would cost it £75M, as selling the site would only raise around £25M of the £100M it cost to buy.

As allocations for major international sports events have been decided for the next decade there is no pressing deadline for stadium completion. This could count in favour of the less developed Coventry and Birmingham bids.

There has also been support for a site at Stratford in east London, although the area is currently tied up with construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

However, should the FA decide not to build a stadium immediately, a bid for the 2012 Olympics at Stratford could emerge.

Whichever site is chosen - if indeed one is - the benefits for the surrounding area will be huge, both economically and socially, with the 11,000 jobs and £229M of extra spending that a new stadium would bring.

Wembley

Cost

£660M. This includes tube station upgrades, site purchase, demolition, fees and all figures are set at 2004 prices.

Capacity

90,000

Transport

Road Good access to the M25, M40, M11 and M4, although local roads have struggled to cope with the mass departure of thousands of fans after big matches. Only 2,900 car parking spaces are planned as public transport provision is seen as being more important. The Stade de France in Paris was sited close to motorways intending to provide for road traffic with 12,000 parking spaces. But after looking at transport models designers reduced places to 4,000, as most spectators were expected to use public transport.

Rail

An improved Wembley Park Underground station could handle 50,000 people an hour, providing the fastest clearance time of any of the proposals. Nearby Wembley Central and Wembley Stadium stations will also be able to carry 10,000 fans/hour between them, with a further two mainline stations nearby.

Air

London has five major international airports, the closest being Heathrow - 21km away. Ferry and Channel tunnel links are also seen as an advantage.

Finance

Funding for tube station upgrades and local transport infrastructure improvements is already committed. London Mayor Ken Livingstone last month pledged to cover a £17M contribution, which was to be paid by the FA.

Without government support, the FA needs to raise about £400M to fund the Wembley project. It has recently secured backing from investment bank International Marketing Group (IMG) which will underwrite the financial proposal with £40M a year of income from the 14,000 executive seats. This deal is vital to Wembley's financial viability as it hopes that IMG backing will secure City confidence.

In favour

Wembley is internationally considered to be the mecca of football, a major selling point to international football events promoters like FIFA and UEFA.

Against

It is claimed that football players and fans are in favour of a new site in the Midlands. Financial doubts remain as the government has insisted that no more public money will be forthcoming for the scheme and there are disagreements about the amount of money the FA should invest.

Coventry

Cost

£250M basic shell only

Capacity

90,000

Transport

Road

Close links to major motorways M1, M40, M45, M42, M69 and M6.

Good clearance times for the 12,000 cars and 770 coaches expected to park at the site on match days.

Rail

Capable of transporting 10,000 supporters an hour, with upgrade work totalling £20M achievable before 2004. Links exist to the West Coast Main Line, East Coast Main Line and the Trent Valley line.

Air

Birmingham International and East Midlands airports have good international links with Coventry airport and are seeking to increase passenger capacity.

Finance

Coventry's status as a European Regeneration Zone guarantees the project at least £40M in grants. It can also borrow money at a preferential interest rate. Coventry carries the same NEC management deal as the Birmingham bid. Like Birmingham, the Coventry stadium does not rely on revenue from executive seating to balance the books.

In favour

'Ours is on a brownfield site in a European regeneration zone and can start tomorrow, ' argues Coventry City Council assistant to the director, Barry Butterworth.

Against

when bidding to stage international events like European Cup finals. Although planning permission is in place for a 40,000 seater stadium, the transport requirements for a 90,000 national stadium can require far more provision. Such factors play an important role in the planning application.

Birmingham

Cost

£324M Basic shell only

Capacity

90,000

Transport

Road

Close to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) with 22,000 car parking spaces and easy access to the M6, M5, M40, M42 and M1. However these motorways around Birmingham are notoriously busy, although the Birmingham Northern Relief Road will add much needed capacity.

Rail

Birmingham International is on the West Coast Main Line and can be reached in just over an hour from London.

This line is, however running at close to capacity in the Birmingham area. The bid's transport plan expects around 17,000 people to travel to the stadium by train.

Air

Birmingham International airport is within walking distance of the site.

Finance

The NEC will manage the stadium and charge the FA an annual fee of around £30M for its use as a venue for major football events.

Initial private finance exists with the backing of venture capitalists.

The project's viability does not depend as heavily on the sale of executive boxes and corporate seating as Wembley, a plus for ordinary football fans.

In favour

Moving the national stadium to the centre of the country makes sense, as major club matches are dominated by northern teams.

International matches may also attract fans who currently choose not to travel to London.

Against

Planning consent has not as yet been given and there is much local opposition to the project which lies on 100ha of green belt land.

Protest group Mind the Gap, supported by Friends of the Earth, would seek a time consuming public inquiry if permission was given. Under planning laws, a greenfield development can only go ahead if there are no other brownfield sites suitable.

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