Don Valley runs into financial obstacles

World Student Games, Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield
World Student Games, Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield

AS soon as Jessica Ennis won gold in the London Olympics, there were calls for the Don Valley Stadium to be named after her.

After all, this was the place where she began her athletics career.

But as far back as last summer, doubts were being cast over the viability of the stadium, so it is now no surprise that the idea of the Jessica Ennis Stadium was not chased enthusiastically.

The venue is leased by the charity Sheffield City Trust and operated by Sheffield International Venues, but the council controls the purse strings, and it says that it subsidises every visit by over £5 per head - by far the highest of all sports facilities funded by the authority.

Almost 23 years old, it is now estimated that £1.6m is needed to repair the stadium roof, seats, floodlights and to continue rewiring. Compared to many of the city’s other sports facilities, Don Valley is under-used.

The option of closure is also presented by officers based on the removal of the subsidy with a relatively low impact on sports participation. It also offers the prospect of a big capital receipt from redevelopment.

If the stadium does close, it is argued, Sheffield would still have some of the UK’s best athletics facilities, especially with the English Institute of Sport next door, and the announcement that Sheffield will be a headquarters of the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine as part of a £10m Government project.

The suggested alternative of Woodbourn Road is less than a mile away and would offer local athletics clubs a permanent home and a base for schools and regional athletics events at a fraction of the cost - £70,000 a year.

When Don Valley opened, it attracted a number of Grand Prix athletics meetings and rock concerts (the Rolling Stones have played three times.) Now both types of events have dried up. Rotherham United have moved from the east end of Sheffield to their new ground, and Sheffield Eagles Rugby League Club play some of their games at Bramall Lane.

However, Don Valley’s indoor gym and indoor athletics straight would be lost.

If closure is confirmed in March, the stadium would remain open until September to meet existing commitments and to allow time to re-establish Woodbourn Stadium, which was in use before Don Valley was built.

Woodbourn has nowhere near the profile or range of facilities of its illustrious neighbour - the stand is much smaller for a start.

But over the next few weeks councillors will assess the pros and cons of elevating its status.

Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, said: “These are extraordinarily difficult times and we have said that we will have to look at tough budget options because of the devastating Government cuts to public spending and local government. We have said all along that nothing is ruled in or out and Don Valley Stadium is one of the bigger options on the table. I want to make it clear that no decisions have been made and when we are in a position to confirm our spending decisions we will do so.”

The revelation that the stadium could close was met with a degree of incredulity in some quarters, and politicians will come under pressure to think about the message it would send in the afterglow of the Olympics.

Yet unless some external financial help can be secured, one of landmarks of the east end could soon be consigned to history.

l Eagles defiant over future.