Seb Coe defends Sheffield stadium closure

'Very promising': Plans to upgrade Woodbourn Road athletics track
'Very promising': Plans to upgrade Woodbourn Road athletics track
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PLANS for the provision of world-class athletics facilities in Sheffield, despite closure of Don Valley Stadium, were welcomed by Jessica Ennis’ coach Tony Minichiello today.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised the council for ‘keeping secret’ the higher cost of redeveloping Woodbourn Road athletics track when setting its budget on March 1.

Mr Minichiello, a staunch critic of plans to close Don Valley, said: “I’ve always believed investment of up to £2 million is needed to make Woodbourn a bona fide athletics facility. I went on record to say the £100,000 to £150,000 initially proposed wasn’t enough. Even in 2011, council officers said it would cost at least £200,000 to £300,000 to bring Woodbourn back into use.

“The proposals to invest a much larger sum would be very promising - but the council should have been more upfront about what it was planning.”

Minutes from a February 4 meeting of the working party, headed by Richard Caborn to discuss the future of the stadium site, have been seen by The Star.

The papers reveal: “The total envisaged cost of reparations and developments at Woodbourn Road is in the region of £1m to £1.5m.”

And the up-to-date plans announced by former Sheffield Central Labour MP Mr Caborn are for a more expensive proposal, costing up to £2.5m.

During Sheffield Council’s budget meeting on March 1, when £50m of cuts were approved including closure of Don Valley Stadium, councillors claimed it would cost only ‘£100,000 to £150,000’ to bring Woodbourn back into use.

The revelation follows concern the council may have overstated the subsidy needed for Don Valley Stadium to justify its closure, and make a political point to the Government about the impact of cuts.

The council leadership has quoted a subsidy of £700,000 - some 40 per cent higher than the £500,000 subsidy paid two years ago.

Mr Clegg said: “These latest revelations raise a serious question mark over the Labour council’s motivation for closing Don Valley Stadium.

“It is becoming apparent that nowhere near the level of savings will be achieved.

“Labour councillors can no longer hide behind blaming others for their decision. It is clear the stadium could be kept open, if there was the required political will in the Town Hall.

“The case for closing and demolishing Don Valley Stadium doesn’t stack up financially and it is the wrong choice for our city.

“Demolishing the stadium would undermine hard work to promote Sheffield as a premier place to invest.

“What’s more, it would also deny our young people the same opportunities sporting heroes such as Jessica Ennis were able to benefit from. The council needs to listen and think again.”

Sheffield Council cabinet member for sport, Coun Isobel Bowler, said: “We had no intention of misleading people over the cost of bringing Woodbourn Road up to standard.

“The maximum amount of money the council has available is £150,000, and we are hoping we could receive funding from Sport England and UK Athletics.

“Mr Caborn’s working party’s proposal is to build the best possible facilities.”

Decision to close Don Valley ‘should not be viewed as a blow’

SEBASTIAN Coe has defended Sheffield Council’s decision to close down Don Valley Stadium.

The Sheffield-raised Olympian, who is chairman of the British Olympic Association, said he can understand the decision to close Don Valley - but insisted the case should not be viewed as a blow to the idea of building a positive London 2012 legacy.

Sheffield councillors confirmed earlier this month that the 25,000-capacity venue, where Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis trains, is to be demolished to save money.

Jess has spoken of her disappointment at the plan, while her coach Toni Minichiello said he feels ‘gutted and angry’ by the move, claiming it will be a major setback for athletics in Sheffield.

Commenting on the proposed closure for the first time, Lord Coe said he could sympathise with Sheffield Council’s view of Don Valley Stadium as a drain on resources after it spent £700,000 subsidising it last year.

He said the proposal for redevelopment work at the smaller Woodbourn Road Stadium nearby was ‘thoughtful’, and that if Sheffield still retains a ‘proper’ track and field training facility it could represent an important step in the right direction in terms of legacy after last summer’s London Games.

Speaking in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, Lord Coe said: “If you have a stadium in Sheffield, where there is clearly not a commitment locally to be a home for international track and field, and it is a 25,000-seater facility, I can understand why a local authority has to look at that and make some decisions.”