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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Lessons for the Olympics

By Simon Austin

The new Wembley Stadium
Wembley was originally meant to host the FA Cup final on 13 May

The Wembley fiasco has cast serious doubt on Britain's ability to complete major sporting projects.

And they don't come much bigger than the Olympics, which London hosts in 2012.

As Britain prepares for its biggest sporting event since the 1966 World Cup, how can the pitfalls of Wembley be avoided?


The company building Wembley, Multiplex, has taken the brunt of criticism for the problems the project has faced.

But David Rogers, deputy editor of Construction News magazine, says Wembley National Stadium Limited - the subsidiary set up by the Football Association to manage the project - was an "inexperienced and indecisive" client.

"They didn't have much of a clue about how to procure the business and were inexperienced in dealing with a major construction project like this," Rogers told BBC Sport.

"They also didn't seem to know exactly what they wanted.

"A good contrast is Terminal Five at Heathrow. That project is on time and on budget, even though it will cover five times the area of Wembley, and hardly anything has gone wrong along the way.

"A major reason is that BAA was a good client. It was experienced, realistic and knew what it wanted."

Experienced operators are in charge of ensuring the facilities in the Olympic Park are delivered.

David Higgins is the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority. He has worked across the public and private sector and led the company which built the Sydney Olympic Village and Aquatics Centre.

The chairman of the ODA is Jack Lemley, who led the construction of the Channel Tunnel.

That project will have given Lemley valuable experience for 2012, as it was massively over budget and missed its deadline by a month.


Multiplex says a big reason for the delay and overspend on the project was that the FA and WNSL kept changing the plans.

As a result, Multiplex is refusing to make penalty payments to the FA for the late delivery of the stadium. The two parties are likely to end up in court as a result.

Higgins is clearly conscious of this danger.

"What happens is people never put the discipline into getting the brief right and (so) they retro-fit it halfway through," he told the Financial Times newspaper on Friday.

"The first thing you can do to prevent costs from going haywire is to discipline the client decision-making process."

The ODA plans a "testing and validation of the concept plans" to ensure things are in place before building starts.


The FA and WNSL agreed a 445m fixed-price contract with Multiplex to build Wembley, along with onerous penalty payments by 31 January 2006.

Multiplex has already incurred heavy losses on the project, largely because steel prices have increased so much.

Yet Rogers says both the FA and the Australian contractors will end up as losers.

"Multiplex has a duty of care to its shareholders and a court battle is inevitable," he says.

"They will argue the project was late because the FA and WNSL changed the plans along the way."

Rogers says it is far better to agree a "cost plus contract", whereby the contractor is paid as parts of the project are completed.


Higgins also says it is important to work in unison with the contractor.

This means agreeing on a clear plan at the start, being flexible and communicating throughout.

He states: "People say the easiest way of tying down costs is to... put the specification out, screw the market and get the lowest price and then stick rigidly to the contract.

"There are projects where that happens. You usually then get into large contractual disputes and out-of-court settlements and ultimately you pay for it."


Although it sounds like the ODA has taken notice of many of the problems that beset the Wembley project, Rogers warns that complacency could be their biggest enemy.

"A contract for remediation (cleaning up) of the site of the Olympic Park has not been awarded yet," he said.

"The 2012 Olympics seem a long way off, but they aren't."

Wembley builders deny delay blame
31 Mar 06 |  Sport Homepage
FA confirms new delays at Wembley
31 Mar 06 |  Sport Homepage
Wembley dropped for FA Cup final
21 Feb 06 |  Football
England and play-off games moved
21 Feb 06 |  Football
Timeline: The new Wembley
21 Feb 06 |  Football

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