Nine months ago, Don Valley stadium was at the centre of national celebrations as Jess claimed gold on an unforgettable night for British athletics.
Unfortunately, the stadium has been back in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons in recent months.
The local athletics and business community have quite rightly questioned the decision to close the stadium and the council have struggled to come up with answers.
Now we know the real reason for their reluctance to talk, as they have been working up new plans in secret.
But the future of our sporting facilities should be a conversation for the whole city, not a topic for Town Hall bosses to decide behind closed doors.
On March 1 at the council’s budget meeting we put forward an alternative plan to keep Don Valley Stadium open.
We know that the plan to close the stadium could have cost local taxpayers as much as £500,000 next year. Claims have also been made that running costs were exaggerated, while the bill for reopening alternative facilities was underestimated. Now we learn that the overwhelming losses of the Sheftival event were also hidden.
Initial plans have been presented but they remain early speculations. Perhaps most worrying, the former Labour MP tasked with finding a future for the site says that his grand scheme is based on “back of a fag packet” calculations.
The Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University has also made clear that funding is not guaranteed from the universities. Clearly, detailed proposals are months away, by which time the gates of Don Valley Stadium will already have been locked.
The vision for the future of the site is an ambitious and admirable plan but by closing the stadium now, we take a huge gamble on an assumption that this project will succeed. The clock is ticking on Don Valley, yet details of the grand plan are nowhere near finalised. We believe that until firm, cost-effective proposals are brought forward the council should not close the current stadium.
Delaying the closure of Don Valley would give time for detailed alternative plans to be prepared and would save the council money next year.
Local taxpayers also need to know that this project won’t come at a massive cost to their council tax bill.
We should all support this idea, but it can be difficult to have faith when the plans are based on “back of a fag packet” financial figures.
It was this kind of poor governance that led to financial mismanagement of the World Student Games – an event which landed the city with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, with more than £20 million still being paid off each year until 2024.
The council must learn the lessons from the past. We have all heard promises about projects coming in at no cost to the council before. But whether it’s the Park Hill flats, the Burngreave New Deal project or the World Student Games, it’s always local taxpayers who end up picking up the bill. If this ambitious plan goes ahead we need guarantees that local taxpayers won’t be left funding another ‘white elephant’.
It’s time the council had a mature conversation with local athletic and rugby clubs, businesses and local people.
No more political games, no back-room deals and no more dodgy numbers. It’s time for a grown-up debate about how we ensure a sustainable future for the City of Sport.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed,
Liberal Democrat leader
Sheffield City Council