The boss of the London Stadium has resigned after an inquiry was opened into the soaring costs to the taxpayer to run the venue.
David Edmonds, the chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation which is responsible for the running of the city’s Olympic Park and how the facilities are used following the 2012 Games, has quit his post.
The announcement comes after London mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Tuesday evening that he had ordered an investigation into the rising bill for converting the London Stadium for use by West Ham amid concerns that taxpayers will be saddled with the costs for years to come.
The LLDC confirmed the news in a statement released on Thursday, although it did not explicitly cite the new inquiry as Edmonds’ reason for stepping down.
David Goldstone, chief executive of the LLDC, said: “David has made an enormous contribution to the legacy of the London 2012 Games and he has helped to steer the organisation through some extremely challenging issues. We thank him for all his hard work and wish him well in the future.”
Edmonds was appointed as LLDC’s chairman last September but he has been closely involved with the Olympic Park’s legacy since 2009. He held senior roles with the LLDC’s predecessor, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, and E20 LLP, a joint venture between Newham Borough and the LLDC.
A former chairman of NHS Direct and boss of the UK’s telecoms regulator, Edmonds was a high-profile appointment for LLDC, particularly as he had also previously managed the NatWest Group’s £3billion property portfolio.
But despite this impressive track record he has been unable to get a grip of costs at the London Stadium, with the bill for converting the venue from its Olympic set-up to one fit for top-flight football now £323million according to a spokesperson for Khan, £51m more than former London mayor Boris Johnson claimed last year.
A spokesperson for Khan, who succeeded Johnson in May, said: “Sadiq will now be looking to secure the very best possible candidate for this important role. He believes the Stadium will continue to be a world-class sports and entertainment facility hosting major events.”
West Ham, who moved into the venue this season, have a 99-year lease and pay £2.5m a year in rent. They also made a one-off contribution to the conversion costs of £15m with the rest coming from taxpayers.
This deal, which includes nearly all of the club’s match-day costs, has been heavily criticised and was only revealed after a long campaign by rival football supporters and taxpayer-rights groups – a campaign Edmonds resisted for two years.
The Hammers’ start to life at the London Stadium has also been beset by problems, with several incidents of crowd trouble and criticisms about a lack of atmosphere.
It is unlikely that Khan will be able to unpick West Ham’s deal with Johnson and the LLDC and the former Labour MP for Tooting has made it clear that he blames Johnson, now the Foreign Secretary, for what his spokesperson has described as a “total and utter mess”.
The main concern now is the cost of the retractable seating that was installed to get football fans closer to the pitch.
This seating cannot easily be wheeled in and out of position – as it is at the Stade de France in Paris, for example – and there is no room in the stadium to store it when it is not in use during football’s off-season.
This means the original estimate for the seating contract, from a company that has since gone bust, of £300,000 is financially untenable. This was based on the belief that it would take five days to do the work, although it actually took three teams of contractors, working around the clock, 10 days to get the seats installed at the start of the season.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told Press Association Sport that: “It is apparent that very little – if any – consideration was given to what was to be done with the stadium once the Olympics were over.
“There are very serious questions about the shocking lack of forward planning which has left taxpayers with a hefty bill for a stadium whose viability is uncertain.
“The forthcoming inquiry, which must be conducted efficiently, needs to get to the bottom of how the authorities managed to get themselves into this mess in the first place.”
Khan’s Greater London Authority, the ultimate owners of the 60,000-seat venue, is currently conducting a tendering process for the contract and it believes taking the seating down and storing it off-site might be a 15-day job that costs £8m.
This, coupled with the increased policing and stewarding costs thanks to the problems with crowd segregation and hooliganism, has led some stadium experts to question if the stadium will ever break even as a multi-purpose venue, particularly as a naming rights deal appears to have been delayed by the recent negative publicity.
Khan, however, remains determined to make the venue work and is hopeful that competitive tendering processes could reduce costs and West Ham’s teething problems at the ground can be resolved. There is also the prospect of next summer’s world athletics and para-athletics championships to look forward to, as well as other sporting and entertainment events.