Lord Coe’s company plans to bulldoze athletics stadium

Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 Olympic organising committee which promised to create a sporting legacy for London and the whole of Britain, now heads up the company which has put forward plans to bulldoze the Crystal Palace athletics stadium.

Lord Coe and Lady Xuelin Bates at the London Olympics in 2012. She has since staged lobbying events on behalf of ZhongRong

Lord Coe and Tory party donor Lady Xuelin Bates at the London Olympic Games in 2012. She has since staged lobbying events on behalf of ZhongRong

A brief public consultation was announced last week and an exhibition is being held at what was formerly known as the National Sports Centre.

The consultation offers four pretty bleak options for what was the home of British athletics for half a century. The proposals have been described as “a disgrace” and “disastrous” by senior figures involved in the sport at Crystal Palace.

Double Olympic champion Coe himself set one of his world records on the Crystal Palace track. In 1989, it was at Crystal Palace that he made his farewell competitive appearance in Britain.

Now, the former Conservative MP’s business interests see him being paid £2 million per year as the executive chairman of the sports marketing and lobbying firm CSM Strategic, the company which is behind the plans to “re-develop” Crystal Palace stadium, drawn up on behalf of London Mayor Boris Johnson. The scheme would likely see the destruction of the athletics stadium, potentially to be replaced by a free school on the site.

CSM Strategic is part of the Chime group of public relations companies originally set-up by Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite spin-doctor. CSM Strategic works mainly with international sporting bodies and cities wanting to stage prestigious international events.

Lord Coe, who is a vice-president of track and field’s world body, the IAAF, as well as chairman of the British Olympic Association, began working with CSM Strategic soon after stepping down as chairman of London Games organisers, LOCOG.

In May this year, Coe’s company announced, “CSM Strategic, working in partnership with FMG Consulting, Opinion Leader and GT Architects, have been appointed to undertake an appraisal of options for the future development of the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (NSC) on behalf of the Greater London Authority (GLA)…”

Tellingly, CSM’s own press release continued: “With the development of new sports facilities at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, post the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the future role of the NSC now needs to be redefined. Its future development also needs to be linked to the long term master plan for the wider Crystal Palace site and take account of the ZhongRong Groups aspirations to rebuild the original Crystal Palace.”

Before the London Games, Crystal Palace’s “role” had been defined by sporting bodies, based on a legacy strategy for the region. According to the sport’s governing body, the venue would serve as a future development facility for athletics south of the Thames.

"Do what you like. We'll take your cash, and we won't tell the locals", is what someone might have said when Boris Johnson and  Chinese developer Ni Zhao met at last year's  announcement for the new Crystal Palace

London Mayor Boris Johnson and Chinese developer Ni Zhao met at last year’s announcement for the new Crystal Palace

The Olympic Stadium at Stratford at present offers no training facilities for any sportsmen or women, while it is being converted for use by Premier League football club West Ham United.

Once that conversion is complete, outside the football season the Olympic Stadium will mainly be used for elite international athletics meetings, such as the planned 2017 IAAF world championships. The promised warm-up track alongside the main stadium – needed for the world’s top athletes in 2017 but also suitable for community and club use – has yet to materialise as part of the promised “Olympic legacy”.

But by 2017, Lord Coe could be president of the IAAF – there is an election next year – and therefore he is also likely to be invited to become a member of the all-powerful International Olympic Committee. Meanwhile, aspiring athletes from Kent, Sussex, Surrey and south London will no longer have a regional training centre of excellence, as had been planned for Crystal Palace.

The role of ZhongRong in the redevelopment of the sports centre appears key.

ZhongRong is the Chinese industrial group controversially invited by Boris Johnson to build a £500 million replica Crystal Palace on part of the publicly owned park. Having a 1960s-built public sports amenity at the foot of the hill below the new Palace would  appear not to fit in with the “aspirations” – as Coe’s corporate press release put it – of Ni Zhao, the billionaire industrialist who runs ZhongRong.

Coe also has some links with lobbyists who have campaigning hard on behalf of the ZhongRong land-grab at Crystal Palace. Michael Bates, like Coe, was a new-entry Tory MP in 1992. Now ennobled, Lord Bates is married to Lady Xuelin Bates, a Conservative party donor who has staged events at the Houses of Parliament on behalf of the ZhongRong development.

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2 Responses to Lord Coe’s company plans to bulldoze athletics stadium

  1. Pingback: More on the background to the Mayor’s proposals for Crystal Palace Sports Centre and Stadium | Penge and Cator Councillors

  2. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    Such an icon how could they. Spend the money and refurbish instead of this slow lingering death and btw Boris listen to the people that use the place.

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