§ The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 16 December 1997 that Sheffield was the chosen site for the headquarters of the United Kingdom Sports Institute.
This is an historic moment for sport. It opens the next stage in a process that we believe will provide our best sporting talent with the facilities and back-up to help them compete at the highest level in the world.
§ Mr. Boswell
The Minister will appreciate the disappointment felt by the residents of Upper Heyford and the adjoining parts of my constituency, as well as further afield. He has already acknowledged the possibility of having a regional establishment there. Will he be equally sympathetic to any proposals that come forward locally for a specialist institute for a particular purpose?
§ Mr. Banks
I understand the disappointment felt in Upper Heyford and by the central consortium in Nottingham, as well as the hon. Gentleman's personal disappointment, because he owns a sizeable chunk of Oxfordshire.
There is nothing to stop Upper Heyford becoming one of the regional centres. That is precisely what my right hon. Friend suggested. My feelings—these are my personal feelings—are that it could be a site for the national headquarters for the Football Association and our national soccer team, because it is in a perfect position.
§ Mr. Grocott
Will my hon. Friend reiterate the Government's commitment to regional centres in developing their sports strategy? Does he agree that centres with long records of excellence, such as Lilleshall, must have a part to play in the development of his policies?
§ Mr. Banks
Of course I accept that. My hon. Friend made a good case for Lilleshall, which will undoubtedly be considered.
Part of our strategy is to develop a proper regional structure to back up the headquarters in Sheffield. That is what the athletes, the competitors, the coaches and the 675 governing bodies asked us for. Although there was only one winner in the competition for the headquarters, no one lost out. My hon. Friend certainly did not.
§ Mr. Spring
Although I welcome the belated establishment of the Sports Institute, what were the precise criteria for its siting that led the hon. Gentleman to reject the views of the British Olympic committee and others?
§ Mr. Banks
The reason for the delay was so that we could get it right. We went along with the idea of an academy—[Interruption.] It is no good hon. Gentlemen and an hon. Lady on the Conservative Benches moaning about that. Although the concept of an academy was good, the structure was not going to meet the needs of the competitors. What is the point of having something that no one uses? We make no apologies for ensuring that the decision was absolutely right.
Sheffield was chosen because the site is a single site with good transport access, which makes use of existing public investment in sports facilities, and, of course, Sheffield has experience of developing and operating national and international facilities. That is not a criticism of the other bids; in the end, if there is a shortlist for a headquarters site, there is one winner—and it was Sheffield.
I expect—indeed, I know—that the British Olympic Association, to which the hon. Gentleman was referring rather than the committee, will play a significant part in running the academy.