Sporting chance as stadium nears end

Views of Don Valley Stadium
Views of Don Valley Stadium

TALKS are being held over the future of the site of Don Valley Stadium with a view to it still being used for sport.

Former Sports Minister and Sheffield Central MP Richard Caborn is at the heart of attempts to ensure the sporting link is not broken if the athletics stadium closes, as expected, in September.

With plans gathering pace for local athletes to move to nearby Woodbourn Road, attention is turning to what could replace Don Valley Stadium.

When the idea of demolishing the stadium was revealed, the financially attractive option of clearing the land for housing was mooted.

However, Mr Caborn, who was involved in the creation of the stadium from the beginning, is keen to see the site remain as part of the city’s sports portfolio.

The landmark grandstand - opened in time for the 1991 World Student Games - would still come down, but the former MP is vigorously pursuing inquiries at national level that he believes could lead to a new sports development.

As well as playing facilities, the aim would be to incorporate elements such as sports science and medicine, which Sheffield wants to pioneer.

No details are being given, but Mr Caborn, who was Sports Minister from 2001 to 2007 and stepped down as a Labour MP in 2010 after 27 years, said a number of schemes were being worked up in the event of the stadium closing in September.

“We are looking to explore all the options. There is a lot of interest from rugby to keep playing on the site. It’s a question of how we can build on the legacy of sport.”

The council is looking to save £700,000 a year by withdrawing the subsidy that underpins the running of Don Valley by Sheffield International Venues. In addition, the stadium is over 20 years old and requires repairs and maintenance costing an estimated £1.6m.

The cash-strapped authority said the alternative was to close up to five community leisure centres, such as Concord, Hillsborough, Heeley or Westfield.

The move was met with some astonishment outside Sheffield, especially in the wake of the Olympics success of Jessica Ennis, whose athletics career started in the east end. Don Valley was seen as the symbol of Sheffield as a City of Sport.

However, local opinion has been more muted, especially compared with the outcry over the proposed closure of Stocksbridge Leisure Centre.

Both City of Sheffield Athletics Club and Hallamshire Harriers have expressed concerns over the potential loss of facilities at Don Valley, but are facing up to the likely reality of relocating to Woodbourn Road.

Councillors will be presented with the case for reopening Woodbourn Road at their budget meeting tomorrow (Friday). “This is less than one mile from both the English Institute for Sport and Don Valley Stadium and will offer our athletics clubs and all city athletics events a high quality and permanent home at a fraction of the cost of Don Valley Stadium - £70,000 as opposed to £700,000,” says a council report.

Mr Caborn said closure would be a “sad day. It would be the end of an era, but I am hoping it will be another chapter in Sheffield’s book of sport.”