Clegg runs into trouble over call to safeguard ‘Ennis’ stadium

DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has called for “urgent talks” over Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium, after council bosses unveiled money saving proposals which could see it closed and demolished.

Last week Sheffield Council said the stadium, used for training by Olympic champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis, cost the taxpayers £700,000 a year to run, with each user subsidised to the tune of £5 a time.

Mr Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, issued a plea for all parties to work together to safeguard the venue’s future yesterday, but his call was met with disbelief from leading councillors who are trying to balance the books.

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Sheffield Council has been told by the coalition Government it must save £50m next year, on top of cuts of £140m already made, and last week the authority’s cabinet issued a dire warning on services.

Responding to Mr Clegg’s intervention, leisure spokesman Coun Isobel Bowler said: “It is unbelievable that Nick Clegg, who is responsible for the cuts to Sheffield, is complaining about their consequences.

“If he really cared about Don Valley Stadium he would give us a fair funding settlement and not impose huge cuts on Sheffield at the same time as some of the wealthiest areas in the country receive no cuts at all.

“With the level of cuts we are facing we simply can no longer afford to provide £700,000 per year subsidy to Don Valley.

“We have stated that if Don Valley Stadium were to close we would continue to provide the facilities required for athletics training at a re-opened Woodbourn Road Stadium, less than a mile away. However, this would be at a one tenth of the the cost – £70,000 instead of £700,000.

“Woodbourn Road could also be used for athletics events that do not attract large crowds of spectators. We will continue to be a city of sport with facilities for all types of sporting activity.

“We have a number of high-profile events being held in the city at our wide range of venues including Ponds Forge, the Motorpoint Arena and Ice Sheffield.”

Ennis’ coach Toni Minichiello and several other members of the Yorkshire athletics community have spoken of their disappointment over the threat to the stadium, saying it “destroys any kind of legacy” from London 2012.

Speaking after the proposal emerged, he added: “We use Don Valley regularly on Sunday and Monday and it forms a substantial part of our training.

“It’s shocking that they are talking about demolishing it and it would make things very difficult for us, but, like anything, you find a way. Jess will not leave Sheffield.”

Mr Clegg said he would be willing to “put party politics aside” in a bid to save the stadium. But he also pointed out the venue was built under a Labour council as part of the ill-fated World Student Games, with local taxpayers still paying interest on debts from the event in 1991.

“Given that these facilities helped produce an Olympic champion, the council should think again and put more effort into making it financially viable,” he added.

“Questions should be asked on why Sheffield finds itself in this situation. Whereas similar sporting facilities in other cities are not under threat, the Don Valley Stadium could close despite the fact it is a world class facility.

“We have to listen to the local sporting community who have said not enough has been done to promote this iconic Sheffield stadium.

“It would be wrong for Sheffield’s Labour councillors to tear down Don Valley Stadium without giving a second thought to preserving Sheffield’s reputation as a great City of Sport.”