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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Assembly attacked over architect row
chamber design
The planned new chamber has now been put on pause
The Richard Rogers Partnership has hit back after being controversially sacked as the architects of the new Welsh Assembly headquarters.

The firm issued a rebuttal of criticisms over costs and design, saying it had been made a "political scapegoat".

Sir Richard Rogers:
Sir Richard Rogers: 'Catastrophic'
Assembly Finance Minister Edwina Hart announced on Tuesday that Sir Richard's partnership was being dropped in a row over escalating project costs.

A statement from RRP said its own advice to the assembly had been "consistently ignored" and added the assembly's management of the plans had been a "catastrophic failure".

A spokeswoman for RRP said: "From the outset, RRP has advised that the project could not be built within a construction budget of 13.1 million due to client changes, the political requirement to use indigenous materials at any cost and exceptional contractor changes.

"RRP's advice was consistently ignored. It is plainly untrue for the Finance Minister to assert that RRP underestimated the costs," the spokesman added.


RRP rejects being made a political scapegoat for a catastrophic failure to properly manage the project

Spokesperson, Richard Rogers Partnership

Mrs Hart said she had acted to protect taxpayers' money, amid criticism of "significant underestimates in the cost plan prepared by RRP".

Members voted to suspend work on the new building - four months in to construction - until a new, cheaper tender can be found.

But RRP branded the assembly's entire project management a "catastrophic failure."

The assembly's latest estimates show that building the chamber would cost at least 24m, while the complete project would break the 40m mark.

"Mrs Hart said: "It is clear now that the scheme design we were invited to sign off in November could not have been constructed for anywhere near the estimates we were provided with at the time."

The assembly's cross-party steering group said it had lost confidence in Richard Rogers - one of the most famous architects in the world - but did not want to abandon the project.

Welsh Assembly Finance Minister Edwina Hart
Edwina Hart said it was no embarrassment
Members voted to postpone a decision on the new building until full costings to date can be published. Deputy First Minister Mike German told members the plan had been put "on pause".

Ministers also said there is now no hope of completing the project before the next Assembly elections in May 2003.

Assembly members have seen the news as a huge disappointment for the progress of the chamber proposal, although the Rogers waterfront design is to remain on course. Work on the foundations began four-and-a-half months ago.

She said it was "a very serious situation".

There is now no prospect of completing the project before the next Assembly elections

Finance statement, Welsh Assembly

Mrs Hart said she was sad, but not embarrassed at the decision and said the assembly had "the luxury to stop, look and see if we can deliver" on the existing Rogers design.

The assembly had originally capped the project cost at 26.6m.

In January, the Finance Minister identified the emergence of "cost pressures".

Mrs Hart's review found the anticipated costs had ballooned drastically.

A party briefing leaked to BBC Wales explained the total project cost had in fact reached between 37m and 47m.

The chamber project is also behind schedule.

The document read: "there is now no prospect of completing the project before the next Assembly elections."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Glyn Davies, Conservative AM
"It is an absolute shambles"
BBC Wales's Catrin Evans reports
"The cranes have fallen silent in Cardiff Bay, where the foundations for the new assembly HQ have been laid"
See also:

02 Nov 00 | Wales
Warning Assembly could cost 41m
01 Jun 00 | Wales
Morgan meets Assembly architect
09 Jun 00 | Wales
Speaker urges building vote
06 Apr 99 | The Welsh Assembly
Building a new assembly
20 Oct 98 | UK Politics
Row over Assembly architect
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