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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Fresh delays for Cardiff Bay chamber
Planned Welsh Assembly debating government debating chamber
Debating chamber plans is way off course
Work on the planned new Welsh Assembly debating chamber building is not likely to start until after the next May's election.

Finance Minister Edwina Hart told AMs during a plenary session that it is not expected that the work would begin before the summer recess.

It is another setback for the project, which like that to build a new home for the Scottish parliament, has seen estimated costs soar.

Richard Rogers
Lord Rogers has joined a consortium

Building work on the site was halted in 2002 by First Minister Rhodri Morgan amid the spiralling construction costs.

It also appears likely the consortium which includes sacked architect Lord Richard Rogers and construction giant Taylor Woodrow will be one of four companies still in the running for the building contract.

Lord Rogers was removed from the project last year in a dispute over rising costs.

In the summer, a company called Schal International Management Limited was appointed as project manager for the building process.

It was anticipated that the contractor would be appointed by the end of this year.

Completion in 2005

But Ms Hart told the assembly there had been a fundamental review of the project since the company had been appointed.

They recommended a different way of funding the building of the new chamber, a "procurement route", which would select two companies from the shortlist to build it.

Tenders for the project would go out on Wednesday, with the two final contractors announced in January 2003.

They know the Welsh public do not want this expensive building

Nick Bourne
She said it was envisage that a formal announcement would be made before the summer recess in July 2003, two months after the assembly elections.

Ms Hart said: "It is a matter of regret to me that we are not on site before the elections, because some in this chamber would like to play politics with it."

However, the professional advice was that this would not be possible, she added.

This means the projected completion of the building is now likely to be 2005, rather than 2004 as originally expected.

The news emerged when Finance Minister Edwina Hart answered a question on the progress of the project put to her by Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas.

News of the delay, which has been caused by unforeseen problems with the building's design, could provoke claims that ministers are hoping to avoid a political row ahead of the elections.

Welsh Conservatives are opposed to a big spend on the planned chamber, instead favouring building a new hospital, while Plaid Cymru support for construction is being sorely tested.

  • Conservative AM Alun Cairns said it was "farcical" and "an enormous embarrassment" which highlighted the assembly's "lack of management" and left "an 8m gaping hole" at Cardiff Bay.

  • Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said it was "a classic example of Rhodri Morgan not being able to take a political decision".

Sources at the assembly said it would inevitably lead to costs increasing.

The original budget for the project was 26.6m, but the estimated costs swiftly rose to an estimated 47m.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan caused controversy when he put the building project on hold and suggested a scaled-down version of the building, but the assembly rejected his proposal.

The Conservatives renewed their opposition to the building in their draft manifesto published last week.

They have always rejected a new building, saying the money should be used on a children's hospital instead.

Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne accused ministers of putting the matter off until after elections in May.

"This is classic Rhodri Morgan and Edwina Hart tactics," he said.

"They are kicking the controversial issue into the long grass until after the election because they are scared of electoral damage.

"They know the Welsh public do not want this expensive building."

BBC Wales' David Williams
explains the story so far
Alun Cairns, Tory AM
"It's farcical and symbolises failure"
Welsh Assembly Chamber Row

Key stories




See also:

19 Jul 01 | Wales
06 Nov 01 | Wales
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