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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
The battle behind 'the building'
Computer generated photomontage of the proposed Welsh Assembly
Computer generated photomontage of the proposed Welsh Assembly
by BBC Wales's Rhys Evans

What is it with the Welsh and architecture?

Apart from castles and a smattering of fine Edwardian buildings in places such as Aberystwyth and Cardiff, one would be hard pushed to find examples of grand civic architecture.

All that, however, was supposed to change with the protracted coming of the Welsh Assembly to Cardiff Bay in May 1999.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan proposed a cheaper option

Although Swansea would have been the cheaper option, political imperatives required that the assembly was sited on the capital's waterfront.

Accordingly, the Queen opened the institution in the computer room of a red-brick building called Crickhowell House.

But this was only ever supposed to have been a short term measure.

Before he lost his bearings in south west London, the then Welsh Secretary Ron Davies instructed a panel of the 'great-and-good' to hold an architectural beauty contest.

The winner - announced in the statesmanlike tones of Lord Callaghan in October 1998 - was fellow Peer Lord Rogers.

The budget for the whole project was 13m and, at first, things went swimmingly.

Even the loss of Ron Davies later that month and the rise of Alun Michael to the post of first secretary could not dampen the ardour of Assembly Members for this plan (Conservatives AMs excepted).

Then things started to go seriously awry.

'Bog on stilts'

The defenestration of Alun Michael to be succeeded by Rhodri Morgan in February 2000 led to a significant change of tone.

The new first secretary was utterly unconvinced by the world famous architect's design and in March 2000, Rhodri Morgan called for a review of the whole plan.

His prescient concern was value for money and Mr Morgan proposed a cheaper option - an extension in the car park or as one of the ruder Tory types branded it "a bog on stilts".

But Mr Morgan's 'bog' was sunk below the water-line.

AMs wanted a big, symbolic piece of architecture and so in June 2000 they gave the project the go-ahead for the second time.

In the meantime, the cost of the project was rising steadily.

In January of this year, Finance Minister Edwina Hart promised members that the chamber could be built for a total of 26 million.

Richard Rogers
Lord Rogers won the 'assembly contest'

And that's how things stood - until two weeks when things started to change.

A leaked letter revealed that the assembly and the Rogers Partnership were barely speaking to one another.

Assembly lawyers started poring over the contract they had with Lord Rogers to see how they could extricate themselves.

And then Armageddon.

On Tuesday, an emergency debate was called with the administration saying that it now wanted to pull out of the plan.

Ms Hart claimed that that the Richard Rogers Partnership had hidden costs from AM' - up to 20 million extra. The project could now cost up to 47 million.

Lord Rogers and his team argued the opposite case. Gallons of bad blood were spilt and it seemed that was the end of the relationship.

In a dramatic debate, AMs voted that another private developer should finish off Lord Rogers plan.

But no. There had to be another twist in this convoluted farce.

On Wednesday night, Richard Rogers said he could indeed deliver the project within the agreed budget of January 2000.

And the following day, the assembly administration said it was prepared to listen to any offer and that it might take advantage of an offer by the Royal Institute of British Architects to arbitrate.

So is this divorce absolute? Confused? If you are, you would be forgiven.

See also:

02 Nov 00 | Wales
Warning Assembly could cost 41m
06 Apr 99 | The Welsh Assembly
Building a new assembly
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