CONTROVERSIAL plans to close and demolish Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium will go ahead after councillors approved a budget which will cut spending by £50m.
Labour-run Sheffield Council announced proposals to flatten the venue earlier this year after the Government unveiled major cuts in local government grants last December.
Leading councillors said they presented the budget with a “very heavy heart” with finance spokesman Bryan Lodge telling a meeting of the full council that the cuts were “spiteful”.
He said the situation was “worse than the treatment meted out to Sheffield in the 1980s under Mrs Thatcher” and blamed Sheffield MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for the situation.
The council said Don Valley Stadium required a £700,000 subsidy from the public purse every year and needed £1.6m to bring it up to modern standards, costs which are not sustainable.
The stadium, which will now close in September, is used for training by the city’s Olympic champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis. After she was given the CBE by the Queen on Thursday she spoke of her hope that it would be reprieved.
Her coach, Toni Minichiello, spoke out over the future of the venue earlier yesterday, saying it would be “totally crass” if the Labour council was using the stadium closure as a way of embarrassing Mr Clegg.
Last night Mike Corden, chairman of City of Sheffield Athletics Club, said he was furious at the decision, describing the stadium as the best in the country for athletics.
“The writing was on the wall when they didn’t instantly rename it after Jess following the Olympics,” he said.
“We asked that question straight away and the politicians averted their eyes and waited for it to go away.”
Mr Corden said the country should be able to afford £700,000 a year to pay for an athletics facility that would cost £100m to build now.
He was scathing about politicians local and national for their role in the Don Valley Stadium’s demise.
He said locally the political parties had blamed each other for the spiralling cost of funding the World Student Games more than two decades ago.
Nationally, they were nowhere to be heard on the matter, having been happy to milk the success of the Olympics last summer, he said.
Lord Coe, who is from Sheffield, should have intervened in his capacity as games legacy ambassador, he added.
“Someone should be on the phone to Seb Coe – he is desperate for the issue to go away.
“Last year Boris Johnson, Coe, David Cameron and Tessa Jowell were all preening themselves – let them all come and look here at what has been left here. Is this the legacy that Coe wanted?”
In the meeting, Coun Simon Clement-Jones, the Liberal Democrat finance spokesman, said the city would still be paying for the stadium for “years and years and years”. He added: “Is this going to be the legacy from the Olympics in Sheffield – knocking down a stadium we are still paying for?”
Other services facing cuts include the city’s libraries, with 14 branches facing the axe unless volunteers or businesses can be found to run them.
A leisure centre in Stocksbridge, north of the city, will also lose council funding despite a major campaign to save it mounted by local residents.
Cost-saving measures also include cuts to elderly care services, closure of public toilets and cuts in training for council staff and spending on information technology.
The council said it would relocate athletics activities to the nearby Woodbourn Road stadium, which would cost only £70,000 to operate annually, a tenth of the cost of council subsidy for Don Valley stadium.
Coun Isobel Bowler, the authority’s sports spokesman, said: “Nobody wants to close Don Valley, but we can no longer afford to subsidise it by £700,000 a year.
“Over the next 10 years the council will save over £6m as a result of this decision.
“That is a huge amount of money.”