The Government says the decision is all about removing the uncertainty – which is pretty important given that this is a large-scale public building project (hardly known for their swift resolution at the best of times). It must have suddenly realised there’s the small matter of an Olympic Games charging at it quicker than Usain Bolt, in a lycra suit packed with potential problems.
The rental plan could of course be a good solution. It’s certainly a lower-risk option for West Ham, a club that was relegated from the Premier League last season, as it would only cost about £2m a year to lease the stadium. That money will help offset estimated running costs of more than £5m a year. And it could actually work out a better deal for the taxpayer too, if the other option is a desperate sale at a heavy loss. That said, it’s hardly going to help West Ham fill the place: if all goes to plan it’ll find itself playing in a 60,000 seat stadium (reduced from 80,000 with a £35m taxpayer-funded refit). If it’s anything like Espanol, Barcelona’s ‘second side’ that plays in the city’s former Olympic stadium, they'll be lucky to get 60 people, let alone 60,000.
Whatever happens, it really has to happen soon. A lot of quibbling is just what such a process doesn’t need. Following an early pledge to make this one a lot cleaner than the building of Wembley (which famously soared over budget and past the deadline like an English penalty in any number of ignominious World Cup exits), this process has been hit by everything from scraps over the running track to revelations that an OPLC executive was moonlighting for West Ham during the bid. Not to mention claims by the OPLC and West Ham that private investigators hired by Spurs had accessed private phone records.
No surprise then that things have been left very late. The OPLC has set a deadline of 2014 for the new tenants of the stadium to move in. For that to happen, planning permission must be submitted by March 2012 to ensure work starts immediately after the Games. After all the hard work bringing the construction projects on budget and ahead of schedule, it'd be a shame if it was spoilt at the last minute by turning into a white elephant, lying dormant long after the Olympics had finished. Meanwhile taxpayers will be hoping they’re not out there in August, picking up an expensive baton that’s been dropped by last-minute panicked decision-making…