BATTLE TO SAVE THE EYE; Threat to Future of Landmark Is Undermining Our Olympics Bid Say Tories as Rent Row Escalates

Article excerpt

Byline: JOE MURPHY;MIRA BAR-HILLEL

THE BATTLE over the London Eye escalated today with warnings that our Olympic bid is under threat.

The claim came in a ferocious attack on the Government's handling of the crisis surrounding the future of the landmark.

The Conservatives say it would be "unacceptable" for it to close down or be moved from its site on the Thames. The Eye's future is under threat from a massive rent increase proposed by the South Bank Centre, the government-appointed body which owns the site.

It wants to increase the rent from [pounds sterling]65,000 a year to [pounds sterling]2.5 million, which the Eye's owners claim is uneconomic.

Shadow culture spokesman Theresa May said the blame would lie with ministers if the Eye was forced off its South Bank site. She warned it would "send a signal" to Olympics chiefs because the Eye is used prominently in London's campaign brochures for its 2012 bid.

The rent row is set to climax in July, within days of a final decision on which city gets the Games.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that its future should be put at risk in this way," said Ms May.

"The Eye is a prominent feature in all of the London Olympic bid promotional activities, yet at the same time its future is in jeopardy.

"What sort of message does this send to the Olympic committee?"

"It is now essential that everything is done to end this unnecessary stand-off and prevent the Eye's closure."

She called for a full statement by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and said ministers could not wash their hands of the affair. "The issuing of an eviction notice by the South Bank Centre is a step too far."

Ms May said ministers could not escape responsibility for the future of the giant wheel because it is ultimately in control of the decision. …