In the first of a two-part feature, Steve Beauchampé assesses Birmingham and Liverpool’s Commonwealth Games bids.
Officials from both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Commonwealth Games England have now visited Birmingham and Liverpool to inspect each city’s proposals for hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, with pronounced differences in the culture and ambition of each bid.
Where Birmingham has produced a bid faithful to the DCMS’s call for a low cost, low risk, but high quality Games, one that would leave a modest legacy for the region of improved sporting, residential and transport infrastructure, Liverpool is proposing something altogether more transformative, with a bid designed to be just the start of the long-term regeneration of a swathe of land to the north of the city centre adjacent to its Mersey waterfront.
The focus of Birmingham’s Games would be a rebuilt and expanded Alexander Stadium in the northern suburb of Perry Barr. The current 12,800 capacity athletics venue would be temporarily increased to up to 40,000 for the Games, thereafter reduced to a maximum of 25,000. The stadium would host the opening and closing ceremonies along with the track and field athletics.
In contrast, centrepiece of Liverpool’s Games would be the proposed new Everton football stadium at Bramley-Moore dock around two miles from the city centre, with a temporary athletics track installed for the duration of the Games. Stadium capacity has not yet been given, but a figure of between 45-50,000 seems reasonable in Games configuration, assuming that Everton would be aiming for a permanent capacity of around 55,000.
Neither city has publicly revealed even the estimated costs of these projects (though we imagine that the DCMS/CGE inspection team have been briefed) nor exactly where funding will come from, but the going rate for a 60,000 capacity football stadium is currently around £300 million if that helps. With Everton as owners or tenants, a secure future and regular usage for the Bramley-Moore stadium seems fairly assured, but as to whether Birmingham can attract sufficient crowd-pulling events to Perry Barr (athletics or otherwise) to justify a potential doubling of current capacity is more questionable, although vastly improved athletic facilities for competitors, officials, the resident Birchfield Harriers club, the local community, sponsors and the media might constitute sufficient reasons in themselves to carry out an upgrade.
Although Liverpool envisages that track cycling, T20 cricket and the preliminary rounds of the squash tournament would be hosted in Manchester, the venues for nearly all other Games events will be, if not quite within walking distance of each other, certainly within a relatively short bus or car journey, with many in or near the city centre and river Mersey waterfront.
Exact locations for some of Birmingham’s events have yet to be confirmed (including the key Games sports of track cycling and swimming), but we already know that they will be spread quite widely across the region, with Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, the NEC, Perry Barr and Aston, Birmingham University, Edgbaston, the NIA and Symphony Hall likely or confirmed locations, whilst West Bromwich, Staffordshire and even Derby have been mooted as hosting events, leading to a much less geographically focussed Games with limited use made of Birmingham city centre.
With neither city or region having a competition standard 50 metre swimming pool, attention has turned to the long-term viability of any new facilities. Liverpool proposes a dramatic floating pool fronting the Mersey near the Pier Head and Albert Dock, which they plan to convert into a lido following the Games. It’s difficult to assess the viability of such a proposal, but as a unique visitor attraction in the heart of the city, it might work, although quite how high would be the demand for such an amenity during the late autumn and winter months is perhaps debatable.
But the operating costs of a 50 metre pool are high, so without knowing the precise location and specification of the Birmingham bid proposal, other than that it will be called the Sandwell Aquatics Centre and be located, “less than ten miles from the centre of Birmingham”, judging its viability, particularly given that there is a newly opened 50 metre swimming facility at the University of Birmingham, or whether an existing swimming facility will close to increase its make way for it, is equally problematic.
Whilst Birmingham’s bid utilises traditional sports venues almost exclusively, Liverpool has opted for several perhaps unexpected locations, the most eye-catching being the staging of some field athletic events (long jump, triple jump and pole vault) at Mann Island, part of the city’s former docks complex.
Such ‘street athletics’ are far from being the gimmick that has been claimed, becoming increasingly popular and attracting large crowds (and potentially new audiences), as Manchester’s annual on-the-streets Great CityGames meet has proven. Amongst Liverpool’s other more eclectic locations are the neo-classical Grade 1 listed St. George’s Hall (a Victorian events and exhibition space near the central railway station in Lime Street) home to the squash finals, and the Liverpool Olympia (dating from 1905) where both the weightlifting and powerlifting would take place.
The danger however is that sight lines in some of these arenas may be less than perfect, whilst spectators at the likes of the NEC, NIA, Symphony Hall and the University of Birmingham should encounter no such potential difficulties.