Costs threaten Scots parliament

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SCOTLAND'S FLEDGLING Parliament will take its first major decision today - whether to scrap plans for a futuristic headquarters.

MSPs will decide if they should ditch the building, due to open in 2001, and instead stay in their temporary residence at the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall in Edinburgh.

A controversy has blown up around the design by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles, which has been compared with the Sydney Opera House because of its startling appearance and soaring costs.

The new Parliament was initially costed at pounds 55m, but official estimates now put it at nearer pounds 109m, and some experts believe it could reach pounds 150m. Many of the recently elected MSPs are keen to distance themselves from the project, to be built beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence.

The Scottish public is not impressed amid criticism that the MSPs, who will not begin legislating until September, have debated little so far other than their own housing and expenses. Yesterday, a poll of more than 1,000 people, by Scottish Opinion, found that 53 per cent wanted the Holyrood project abandoned and the MSPs to stay put. However, the Church of Scotland has made clear its building is only on a temporary lease.

Work on the Holyrood site has already been suspended for 10 days, but after today any further delays will cost pounds 500,000 a day in penalties. Abandoning the project completely will cost pounds 14m in penalties.