In spite of its terrible recent record on building national arenas, the government believes it can deliver the ultimate venue – an Olympic stadium for the London 2012 games.
Can this country deliver a national stadium? The fiascos at Wembley and Pickett’s Lock have cast doubt on the government’s ability to get publicly funded stadiums off the drawing board.

Despite their previous failures, the government is pressing ahead with a bid for the 2012 Olympic games , which will require an 80,000-seater stadium. Consultant Arup has been appointed by the government, GLA and British Olympic Association to draw up a cost analysis of a London bid. The report is due out in May and will analyse the cost of bidding and hosting, and examine the regeneration implications.

Wembley has virtually been ruled out as a venue, as the International Olympic Committee is likely to want a stadium with a permanent athletics track, which Wembley’s design doesn’t provide.

The prospects for the Olympic stadium in the capital appear to be better than they ever were for the ill-fated Pickett’s Lock stadium, which was to be built for the 2005 World Athletic Championships. Ken Livingstone never gave his full support to Pickett’s Lock but he is said to be keen on a London bid for the games, as is sports minister Richard Caborn. The millions saved by abandoning Pickett’s Lock could also be redirected to help fund an Olympic stadium.

Any proposal for a new stadium will come under the close scrutiny of Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Following the government’s decision to abandon Pickett’s Lock, Jowell now says that before projects are signed off at planning stage, the government has to be convinced of their desirability and affordability.

This means that a use for an Olympic stadium post-games will have to be established before the project gets the go-ahead. Had this principle been applied in the past, it may have prevented successive governments spending countless millions on the Millennium Dome even after it reached white elephant status.

More secure is the long-term future of the City of Manchester stadium, which is being built for the Commonwealth Games. After hosting the athletics it will become the home of Manchester City football club, whose perversely loyal fans should comfortably fill the 48,000 seats.

Unlike Wembley, there have been no qualms in Manchester about converting an athletics stadium into a football arena. After the Commonwealth Games finish this summer, contractor Laing will excavate the stadium’s bowl a further 6m and create a lower terrace to boost the capacity by 10,000.

Laing has bought the expertise it gained working on the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to Manchester, but it left behind the guaranteed maximum price form of contract, the dire consequences of which were a £30m loss on the project and ultimately the sale of Laing Construction to O’Rourke. However, Laing’s role of construction manager/principal contractor at Manchester carries far less risk.

Despite such horror stories, Australian contractor Multiplex is prepared to take on £400m of construction risk at Wembley. Potential bidders for a future Olympic stadium will be watching with interest.

Such observers won’t be encouraged by the latest developments, which could delay the project further. The board of Wembley National Stadium Limited is being restructured in light of criticisms by the government, and WNSL may have to submit a new planning application to Brent Council after the architect Foster and Partners modified the design to cut costs.