Forget it Orient

16 03 2011

London 2012 bosses have today branded plans for Leyton Orient to move to a 15,000 seater football stadium in the Olympic Park as “inconceivable”.

Chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), Baroness Ford, says Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn has failed to understand that his proposals would damage the legacy of the games and the park could not support two football clubs.

Mr Hearn believes that the OPLC’s recent decision to recommend that the Olympic Stadium should go to West Ham United after London 2012 would lead to the eventual extinction of Leyton Orient.

To battle this he wants to sell-off the club’s Brisbane Road ground to help fund a new £35 million new stadium at Eton Manor in the Olympic Park, or move into the Olympic site’s 2012 hockey stadium, which is due to be taken down after the games.

Eton Manor will have temporary swimming training pools during the Olympics and wheelchair tennis during the Paralympics, before becoming the site of a new hockey facility, which will replace the 2012 one and also cater for up to 15,000 spectators.

But speaking to members of the London Assembly on Wednesday, Baroness Ford said that she believed that the Eton Manor site is not “up for grabs”.

“I personally think that it is inconceivable to put two football stadia in the Olympic Park. I mean, this is much needed open space for recreational and employment space, and housing. And I have made that point to the chairman of Leyton Orient. This isn’t land that is up for grabs, nor earmarked for anything else. It is very clearly earmarked in the master plan for specific legacy purposes set out long ago.

“The chairman of Leyton Orient is not quite clear on the use of Eton Manor. In terms of the planning consent there is an obligation to deliver a certain quantity of metropolitan open land in the Olympic Park. That northern part of the park is part of that.

“The hockey complex will be reconfigured in legacy and there is no question of a hockey stadium being left there.”

Earlier this month Barry Hearn said this idea was the only way to ensure that West Ham’s move to the Olympic stadium would not cripple the League One club, which he predicts will reduce Orient’s revenue by at least £1.5 million a year.

The Leyton Orient chairman is also still considering using funds raised from its successful FA cup run as a war chest to challenge the OPLC’s backing of West Ham in the courts.

But he has admitted he would drop any legal action if people like the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, local councils or the OPLC itself helped Orient move to Eton Manor or into the hockey stadium.

“To compete we would have to move out of the area completely or be housed in the Olympic Park itself,” Mr Hearn said recently.

“That way we could have the same facilities and transport links that West Ham would have and then there would be a level playing field for us to compete on. There are options such as moving into the hockey stadium or building a new venue at Eton Manor playing fields.”

During a meeting of the full London Assembly, Baroness Ford also told politicians that official confirmation that West Ham will take over the Olympic Stadium is being held up, especially as the OPLC is still to hear if rival bidder Spurs want to appeal their decision.

“Because we are still in the negotiations with West Ham and Newham (council), and because Tottenham Hotspur have not yet said whether they or not they will review the decision we are not at liberty to put out much information yet.”

Ford and OPLC chairman Andrew Altman also confirmed that they would probably decide to close the park completely after the games and spend at least a year making it ready for use by the public from 2013 at the earliest, with key venues like the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre open to the public no earlier than 2014.