West Ham United’s hopes of securing the future usage of London’s Olympic Stadium have suffered a new blow after Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn said the League One club will mount a legal challenge against the result of the bidding process for the venue.
Premier League club West Ham was in December confirmed as the preferred bidder for legacy usage of the Olympic Stadium in what has been a long-running, and often contentious, process to determine the future of the centrepiece of the London 2012 Games. West Ham was reportedly close to reaching a final agreement with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) over the last major sticking point of its proposal, but Wednesday’s announcement from Orient raises further question marks over the process. Third-tier club Orient saw its original bid for the £429 million Stadium rejected by the LLDC due to issues relating to “commercial viability”. The club has now asked the High Court to issue a judicial review with Hearn arguing that the current process carried out by the LLDC has ignored the possibility of Orient and West Ham sharing the stadium.
“All parties signed up to the principle of ‘teaming’ and we don’t think that serious consideration has been given to Leyton Orient sharing or ‘teaming’ with West Ham in the occupancy of the Olympic Stadium,” Hearn told BBC London. “Our legal advice is that there is a fundamental flaw in the LLDC’s bidding process that has to be rectified. I went to two Queen’s Counsels to be instructed on this and they both agreed that this whole operation has been a massive mistake by LLDC. Those are their words, not mine. As such we are very confident the judicial review will show us to be correct and the bidding process will have to take into account the teaming principles. We know we are fighting for our future and survival. We have to follow the rules as laid down and other parties have to follow them as well. Clearly that has not been done and we want to know why.”
West Ham has played at Upton Park, which currently has a capacity of 35,000, since 1904. Successful completion of final terms would see the club move as anchor tenants to an Olympic Stadium scaled back from 80,000 to 60,000 seats. Hearn believes the sole occupancy of the Stadium by West Ham would call the future of his club into question. “A major club can ground share with a smaller one,” he added. “I don’t think occupancy by West Ham and Leyton Orient hurts either team. It prolongs and extends the legacy of the Olympic Park and makes it vibrant. West Ham moving to the Olympic Park will put a huge amount of pressure on Leyton Orient to survive at all. We are 750 yards away (from the Park) trying to compete with Premiership football. We have no chance in the long-term.” Responding to the latest development, the LLDC said in a statement: “We have been notified that Leyton Orient have made the decision to issue proceedings for judicial review. Whilst this is disappointing, we believe that our processes have been robust, fair and transparent and that the challenge is misconceived.”