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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Waiting for Wembley

By Phil Harlow

Wembley Stadium
The Wembley Stadium project has received yet more bad news

A new era dawned for English football on Tuesday when Steve McClaren officially took over as national coach, but the prospects of him leading his players out at Wembley seem as distant as ever.

The 90,000-capacity flagship project was originally scheduled for completion in August 2005.

Several deadlines have since slipped by, as builders Multiplex and owners Wembley National Stadium Ltd (WNSL, a subsidiary of the Football Association) embark on a very public slanging match with each blaming the other for the delays.

Floors already laid by Multiplex will have to be ripped up so WNSL can install cabling, a telling symbol of the deteriorating relationship between the two companies.

So, why exactly is the completion of the stadium falling further and further behind schedule?

WHY THE ISSUE IS IN THE HEADLINES AGAIN

Sydney-based construction firm Multiplex issued an update to its shareholders and the Australian Stock Exchange on 1 August, informing them of its progress on the much-delayed project.

Multiplex insisted the stadium was "substantially complete", but blamed WNSL's reluctance to embark on its own side of the construction work for its prediction that the stadium would be "unlikely" to hold a full-scale test event until June 2007

WNSL responded with a press release heaping the blame back onto Multiplex.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR STICKING POINTS?

Much of the dispute hangs on the two sides' differing interpretations of "practical completion" (PC) and what happens once it is achieved.

Such problems are not uncommon in the construction industry and are often the reason for legal disputes.

Multiplex says it can effectively "hand the keys over and walk away" once PC is achieved, but in practice, the company will have to continue to work alongside WNSL until the stadium is ready to host a 90,000 event - this is when the stadium is operationally complete.

A Multiplex spokeswoman told BBC Sport: "We're very clear as to what constitutes PC: it is when (local authority) Brent Council say you're ready to hold a 90,000 event.

The goalposts have already been erected at Wembley
The goalposts are up, but there is little immediate prospect of action

"We cannot do that until the stadium is operational, the required safety certification is achieved and the council say it's all systems go for a 90,000 event."

But WNSL chief executive Michael Cunnah said Multiplex's definition was disingenuous.

"Multiplex has deliberately confused two critical milestones. They are required to hand WNSL a completed stadium which is defined in the contract as PC," he said.

"WNSL then has to work with Multiplex to finish certain works and hold the various test events which will enable the safety certificate to be obtained and achieve operational completion.

"This is the point at which a fully-functioning stadium is delivered, capable of holding events for 90,000 people."

WHAT'S HOLDING THINGS UP NOW?

Both sides agree WNSL needs to carry out its "client works", but the dispute extends to the relative importance of this work.

Under the terms of the contract, these "client works" are construction jobs WNSL needs to carry out and include the installation of radio control systems and integrated CCTV units.

WNSL says the works are relatively minor and can easily be completed in two to three months after they take control of the stadium.

But Multiplex believes the works are "critical" before the stadium can be handed over and that WNSL's failure to complete the jobs is undermining the entire project.

The floors will have to be ripped up to put the CCTV cabling in

Multiplex spokeswoman

This impasse will ultimately force completed floors and ceilings to be ripped out and restarted.

"We have been in a position for the last few months where WNSL could start their works - at this stage, they still haven't," said a Multiplex spokeswoman.

"In the police control room, we have finished our work and have all the internal CCTV system operating.

"WNSL now have to come in to integrate it with the CCTV in surrounding streets and the stations. The floors will have to be ripped up to put the cabling in.

"We've been advising WNSL of this and asking when they are coming in for the last few months and - through the media - they are saying they're waiting for us to get further down the line."

WHAT OTHER WORK STILL NEEDS TO BE COMPLETED?

There is a lack of agreement about the precise nature of the outstanding work to be done. As ever, the devil is in the detail.

WNSL says Multiplex still needs to complete the stadium roof, remedial work on the drains and fit about 10,000 seats.

THE BOOKIES' VIEW:
9/4 Wembley will host the 2007 FA Cup final
1/3 Wembley will NOT host the 2007 FA Cup final
(odds courtesy of William Hill)

Not so, says Multiplex. "The roof structure is finished," their spokeswoman told BBC Sport.

"What still needs to be done is facade and guttering - we have to clip on facades to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

"All the remedial work on the drains have been completed, so to say we've got drains and roof problems is actually not correct."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

If the disputes are resolved - and on current form that's a big if - and the construction work is completed, there are still hurdles to clear.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard celebrates with the trophy at last year's FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium
Liverpool won last year's FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium

Before the stadium can open its doors and host a 90,000 capacity event such as the FA Cup final, it needs to acquire a safety certificate from the local council.

To achieve this, WNSL must stage three "ramp-up" events where it will host crowds of 30,000 and 60,000 at music concerts or smaller-scale sporting matches.

Brent Council officials and the Metropolitan Police will carry out inspections, checking the stadium and the local infrastructure - stations, roads etc - can cope.

"The testing procedure is twofold," a Brent Council spokeswoman told BBC Sport.

"Firstly we check the actual fabric and engineering of the structure, and secondly we test the safety operations: the PA system, fire alarms, fire exits and so on."

AND WILL THAT BE IT?

Probably not.

With the sides disagreeing on so many issues, the most likely place for the issues to be settled is in the courts.

Legal proceedings are already under way between Multiplex and Cleveland Bridge, one of its sub-contractors.

Multiplex and WNSL can go through mediation and then adjudication processes first, but both sides feel a long-running legal battle is the most likely outcome.

"Going to the courts is always a last resort," said a Multiplex spokeswoman.

"There are other procedures that you go through and we would always do settle these matters privately. But we are confident in our claims and, if necessary, it will progress onto the courts."



SEE ALSO
Wembley owner fears more delays
31 Jul 06 |  Business
Wembley photos
02 Aug 06 |  Photo Galleries
McClaren ready for England task
01 Aug 06 |  Internationals
Turf is laid at Wembley Stadium
12 Jun 06 |  London
Wembley firm 'will seek damages'
06 Jun 06 |  Business
Wembley builders deny delay blame
31 Mar 06 |  Sport Homepage


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