Ministers have moved to tighten their grip on preparations for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, after organisers were forced to admit they will not be able to get the £500m athletes’ village ready in time for the showpiece event.
Construction delays exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic were blamed for the decision to scrap ambitious plans to build accommodation for as many as 6,500 athletes. The athletes’ village was also struggling to fall within its budget, according to a report presented to Birmingham city council in February.
Instead competitors will be dispersed to three different sites, in an embarrassing blow for the Games, which are part of an effort to shine an international spotlight on UK regional cities such as Birmingham.
However, the development will continue and will be used to provide local housing — its ultimate intended role after the Games.
Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, was said by allies to be “pretty disappointed” and on Wednesday will appoint an independent chair to the Games’ capital projects board to exert more oversight.
Birmingham won the right to host the games in December 2017 ahead of Liverpool after financial woes forced the South African city of Durban to give up the event nine months earlier.
The change of host city had already put pressure on construction, which began in May last year and was due to complete in early 2022
Mr Dowden has written to Birmingham city council saying that any further delays would be unacceptable and that any extra costs would have to be met within existing budgets. The UK government has committed £778m to fund the Games.
“It [the decision] is primarily down to the Covid impact on the programme,” Ian Reid, chief executive of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. “It would have had a much greater chance of delivery, clearly, without Covid.
“It was a tight programme anyway. We’re also sitting right now with a degree of uncertainty about whether there’s going to be further Covid impacts as well.”
Fears also exist about the expansion of the Alexander Stadium, which will host athletics and a new swimming pool in Sandwell.
One government official said: “The Games will happen on time and we have made it clear to all involved it must land within the £778m budget.”
The government insists that athletes, who will be dispersed to accommodation at the universities of Birmingham and Warwick and to the National Exhibition Centre, would still have a good experience and would be based closer to Games venues.
Conservatives are pointing the finger at Labour controlled Birmingham city council for not being “swifter” to deal with impending problems. The council declined to comment.
But they accept that the virus did delay some construction work at the village and had “accelerated” the moment of crisis for the project.
Andy Street, the Conservative elected mayor of the West Midlands, has been briefed on the situation and believes it is a good compromise as it still creates much-needed housing for the area.