West Ham blowing bubbles after clinching Olympic Stadium deal

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WEST Ham were handed the keys to the Olympic Stadium yesterday after a deal for the London 2012 centrepiece was finally agreed.

The Hammers were named preferred bidders in December but negotiations with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) have been long and tortuous.

The Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Stadium

However, the LLDC has announced that a deal has now been signed off that sees the Barclays Premier League club become anchor tenants under a 99-year lease.

Plans for the revamped stadium were unveiled yesterday, with the reported £150m facelift due to be completed in time for the 2016-17 season.

The Olympic Stadium will be transformed into a 54,000-seater venue, with the Hammers now set to embark on an independent supporter consultation process.

“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.

“Since we came to West Ham in 2010 we have had a vision to really take the club forward so West Ham United can compete on the pitch at the highest level.

“We understand the responsibilities that come with calling the nation’s iconic Olympic Stadium, which will be converted into a world-class football stadium, our new home. It is an honour we will take on with pride.”

London mayor Boris Johnson, who is also chair of the LLDC, said: “This is a truly momentous milestone for London’s spectacular Olympic Stadium ensuring its credible and sustainable future.

“Through this deal with West Ham United FC, we are defying the gloomsters who predicted this landmark would become a dusty relic.”

As expected, it was confirmed that the LLDC will receive a windfall payment should West Ham’s owners sell on the back of the move within 10 years.

The stadium itself will have retractable seats all around the pitch, which will allow the 2017 World Athletics Championships to take place as planned. In addition, the deal opens the way for the stadium to be used as a venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The plans for the future of West Ham’s current Upton Park home and the surrounding area remain confidential for the time being. Leyton Orient owner Barry Hearn has been against West Ham taking over as the sole football club at the stadium and has challenged the decision throughout the process.

The 64-year-old Matchroom Sport chairman told talkSPORT he did not understand the timing of the announcement.

“I don’t know why they are announcing anything because we have applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the bidding process, so anything they announce about West Ham has to be subject to the High Court’s decision,” he said.

“Why they are trying to steamroll this announcement through today, prior to the court’s decision, to me is a sign of panic. I don’t know why they are doing it.”

Hearn’s main bone of contention is his feeling that a move for West Ham closer to the home of npower League One outfit Orient will ruin his club.

“We don’t think we have been given a fair crack of the whip,” he said.

“We have had no opportunity to discuss ground-sharing with West Ham, which we think is the only logical way out. What harm do we do? We get a chance to survive.”

Former sports minister Richard Caborn branded the deal to lease the stadium to West Ham as “the biggest mistake of the London Olympics”.

The former Sheffield Central MP said he welcomed the fact that the future of the stadium was now settled but insisted there had been unnecessary cost to the public purse.

Under the deal, West Ham will pay only £15m for a 99-year lease on a stadium whose conversion costs will be £150m to £190m and whose overall cost could top £630m.

Mr Caborn 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].

“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.

“I suggested retractable seating like the Stade de France in Paris but they insisted it should be a 25,000-seat athletics stadium.”

Mr Caborn added: “Time and again mistakes are made with Olympic Stadiums and the lessons should be learned for any future similar projects.”