Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Tuesday, 21 February 2006

The perils of building a landmark

A six-month delay in the construction of the new Wembley Stadium means May's FA Cup final is returning to the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff.

It is a blow to planners and football fans but the delay is nothing compared with some deadline-busting projects.

Wembley Stadium
Multiplex has predicted 75m losses on the Wembley project
The original deadline for the 757m stadium, in north London, was autumn 2005 - it was extended first to the end of January and then to the end of March.

Construction firm Multiplex has said the stadium could still be ready for the 13 May final, but that it understands the FA's move after it could not offer "100% certainty".

Here are some other projects to have been blighted by delays:

  • The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood cost more than 10 times its original 40m estimate and was completed three years late in 2004 for 431m.

  • The national air traffic control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, had been due to open in 1996 and cost 350m. It eventually opened in 2002, having cost 623m.

  • The new British Library, opened in 1997 at a cost of 511m. It was three times over-budget - and construction work had overrun by five years.

  • The privately-financed Channel Tunnel opened a year behind schedule in 1994, at a cost of 10bn - more than double the original budget.

Tom Broughton, deputy editor of Building magazine, said difficulties were not unusual with "landmark projects".

"The designer and client want something original - the designs inevitably become very difficult to build," he said.

Millennium Stadium
The Millennium Stadium ran millions over budget
"Big projects like this are clearly difficult to build - problems arise and costs spiral."

The Millennium Stadium's own construction history was hardly trouble-free, with the cost spiralling from 96m to more than 120m.

Main contractor John Laing was forced to cut hundreds of jobs after it suffered losses of around 30m in a scramble to meet the deadline of opening for the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

Fixed price

Mr Broughton said the FA had been "forward-thinking" in negotiating a capped price for the Wembley development.

Other major contractors had "shied away" from the deal, he said.

"This project was quite unique in that the Football Association negotiated a fixed-price contract with Multiplex, which basically meant it was never going to pay more money out than they agreed in the beginning."

Multiplex has already said it expects to lose 75m on its 455m contract.

It could also face fines for missing the deadline to complete the stadium.

'Fantastic'

But Mr Broughton suggested that building projects of this scale continued to impress and inspire long after memories of difficulties encountered in their completion had faded.

The striking addition to the London skyline of the arch already raised over the stadium was a "fantastic achievement of engineering", he said.

Wembley Stadium
The 133m-high arch towers above the new stadium
"Construction projects are judged on whether they hit their budgets and hit their deadlines," Mr Broughton said.

"But in 50 years' time, it is doubtful people will scrutinise it on that basis when there is a fantastic stadium with a landmark arch."

The former chairman of the government's football task force, David Mellor, agreed, saying: "It's late, but tell me a building project that isn't late.

"This is a major project, and I just think that the fact that it may be a few weeks late finishing, in the great order of things... doesn't matter tuppence."

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