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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 15:31 GMT
Architect surprised at competition
Dr John Gibbons
Dr John Gibbons denied that projected costs were concealed
Scotland's chief architect has told the Holyrood inquiry that he was surprised ministers decided to run a competition to choose the design for the new parliament building.

Dr John Gibbons said he had warned the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, that it might be controversial, but had been told that controversy was "no bad thing".

He said he had thought it was a courageous step for a government to take, because it was not the safest route to "procure a building".

Dr Gibbons made the statement during evidence before Tory peer Lord Fraser of Carmyllie on Monday.

He also said that ministers discussed ideas for a new Scottish Parliament as if they were "going to the grocers" without understanding the impact on cost.

Dr Gibbons, the chief architect at the Scottish office following the 1997 Labour election victory, said he was concerned about the price of the building right from the outset.

The Secretary of State coined phrases like this has to be an efficient modern building not a grand one - that tended to move and I felt particularly he was heavily influenced by expectations in other quarters
Dr John Gibbons
chief architect
He said he was concerned even before the devolution White Paper was published in July 1997 which estimated that a new building for the Scottish Parliament would carry a price tag of between 10 million and 40 million.

He said: "I think before the White Paper we had concerns about cost because I certainly felt that maybe we were not getting the message across clearly enough that there was a great range of possibilities within the cost range.

"Forty million pounds in building terms could buy quite a range of products and I was concerned, based on the margins of the debate, that what was being expected moved from the cheapest to the best and I was concerned that there wasn't an understanding of the impact this would have on the cost.

"It was almost as though it was like going into a grocers where you have a very simple choice and after the White Paper we tried to drive that issue home."

The comment came in the fourth week of public evidence taken at the inquiry at the Scottish Land Court in Edinburgh.

Feasibility study

Dr Gibbons is currently the architectural adviser to the Scottish Parliament's corporate body of senior decision-makers and has been a registered architect since 1964.

He told the inquiry that the late Mr Dewar had moved towards favouring a grand building under pressure from Scottish and British architects.

He said: "The Secretary of State coined phrases like this has to be an efficient modern building not a grand one.

"That tended to move and I felt particularly he was heavily influenced by expectations in other quarters."

Dr Gibbons justified the decision to appoint three architectural firms to undertake feasibility studies in November 1997, rather than issue an open tendering exercise.

He said that that decision was taken in relation to the three sites on the table at that point - Leith, Haymarket and Calton Hill - because of the limited time available.

The Scottish Land Court
The inquiry is being held at the Scottish Land Court
Dr Gibbons also confirmed that the architectural firm RMJM only had one week to draw up a similar feasibility study for the Holyrood site when it was added to the short list in December.

He said that Mr Dewar had been planning to make a decision about his favourite site when he received a presentation on the four candidates on 15 December.

But he said his opinion on the Calton Hill option changed after seeing "an extremely clever presentation" on it.

Referring to the Calton Hill location he said: "He didn't like the architecture which he thought was somewhat fascist but the other issue was a slightly more personal issue.

"He confessed that it always reminded him of the journey he had to make on a Monday morning on the train to meet with Michael Forsyth.

"That sets him off and added to the fact that St Andrews House was somewhat coloured by that."

BBC Scotland's Kirsten Campbell
"The inquiry team has further questions about the choice of architect"

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