Is new Wembley the great hope for the future or a great white elephant?

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Those who follow football in the UK will be well aware of the debacle which is the new Wembley Stadium. This is a stadium which was supposed to be rebuilt back in 2000 and finished in 2003 but instead work began in 2003 and was not finished until 2007.  There is also the fact that the stadium was supposed to cost £240 million yet came in with a final figure of £790 million. So is new Wembley the pinnacle of technology for the UK football scene in the future or a large white elephant?

Legal and financial arguments

The original Wembley was supposed to have been closed in 2000 to let work commence on the new Wembley Stadium but due to legal wranglings, financial wars and a general confusion amongst those in charge the venture did not get off the ground until three years later in 2003. Even in 2003 the original estimated cost of £240 million had increased substantially and there were great concerns that the cost of the project was going to run out of control.

Work finally commences

In the second half of 2003 we saw the old Wembley demolished and work finally began on the new Wembley design which have been put together by architects HOK Sport and Foster and Partners with engineers Mott MacDonald and the overall project managed by Multiplex. Initially the venture was funded by Sport England, Wembley National Stadium Ltd, the Football Association, the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the London Development Agency. However, controversially the name of the Lottery Fund was added to the list of contributors and more and more the project relied upon the lottery to cover much of the additional cost.

The timeline to completion

When the project was finally handed over to the Football Association on 9 March 2007 it was four years behind schedule and more than £500 million over the original cost estimate. Points of note include:-

Late 2003 old Wembley demolished
December 2003 first delay as constructors of the arch warned Multiplex of rising costs
2005 – 2006 Multiplex rumoured to be in financial trouble
March 2006 parts of the Wembley roof collapses causing evacuation of the project
March 2006 sewage system under Wembley is damaged due to ground movement
March 2006 developers confirm the project will be at least 12 months late
June 2006 new turf laid
October 2006 confirmation that new Wembley will open in early 2007
March 2007 new Wembley opened for local residents
May 2007 new Wembley Arena open for first FA Cup final

These are just a few of the main events along the way although they do not give the whole story of the debacle which is the new Wembley project. Between 2003 and 2007 the cost of the project went from £240 million to £790 million with the UK taxpayer expected to give more and more towards the cost. This increased input from the taxpayer came from government funding as well as a number of smash and grabs on the National Lottery Fund.

The structure

While the new Wembley has received more than its fair share of criticism it is actually a massive improvement on any stadium around the world with many of the highlights including:-

The stadium has 90,000 seats available although the numbers actually fluctuate depending upon the entertainment on show.
Wembley has a massive 2618 toilets which is more than any other stadium in the world.
The stadium itself has a circumference of just over 1 km.
The project required 90,000 m³ of concrete and 23,000 tonnes of steel.
The venue is supported by 4000 separate piles, the deepest of which is over 35 m underground.
At the height of the construction phase there were more than 3500 construction workers assigned to the project.
Within the stadium and there are over 400 m of escalators which is around quarter of a mile.
The now famous Wembley arch is actually greater in diameter than the length of a cross channel train!

The roof

When considering the complexity of the new Wembley project there is one area which stands out further than any other, the roof. The roof on the stadium weighs 6350 tonnes and covers an area of 45,000 m². The main feature of the roof is the fact that over 18,000 m² is actually retractable rising to a height of 52 m above the pitch. Many people will be surprised to learn that the roof is not fully retractable which means that the climate will always play a part in the entertainment.

Strange facts and figures

At the height of a large-scale entertainment event such as a football match the dispensers within Wembley are able to pour over 30,000 cups of soft drinks in less than 10 minutes. There is also a capacity to serve around 40,000 pints of beer during the 15 minute half-time interval in a football or rugby match.

Transport was vital to the Wembley project and saw an upgrade on the Wembley Park line which brings some 40,000 attendees a day to various entertainment events during the year. At peak times the station will see over 100 trains per hour taking people directly to the stadium.

For those looking at food and drink there are over 34 bars, 8 restaurants, 98 kitchens, 688 food and drink service points and seated accommodation to cover 10,500 people per sitting. This places Wembley at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry of the world.

Summary

While there is no doubt that the construction phase of the new Wembley project was a complete disaster, being delivered four years late and more than £500 million over budget, the end may well justify the means. Now that the project is finished it has rightly taken its place in the top tier of stadiums around the world.

No seat in the stadium has an obstructed view, the two twin towers from old Wembley have been retained, the new arch is visible from miles around and the transport network has been greatly improved in the region. What started off as potentially the largest white elephant ever in the property world has turned into something of a major tourist attraction and will host many sporting and entertainment occasions for many years to come. Was it worth the wait……

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