Hard hats and scaffolding at opening of Scottish Parliament

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It was three years behind schedule, more than £400m over initial budget estimates and not entirely finished but yesterday, the new Scottish Parliament building finally opened for business.

It was three years behind schedule, more than £400m over initial budget estimates and not entirely finished but yesterday, the new Scottish Parliament building finally opened for business.

The pomp and circumstance of the official opening is not due until next month and MSPs took their seats for the first parliamentary session surrounded by scaffolding and workers in hard hats, the sounds of drilling and hammering ringing in their ears. But there was still a sense of satisfaction as they sat in the debating chamber.

It was their first official opportunity to use the facility which has pushed spending limits through the roof along with the patience of the Scottish people. "We've got a work of art, the challenge now is to turn a work of art into a working parliament. It will be finished by October 9," promised George Reid, the Parliament's presiding officer. "We are 99 per cent there."

The Parliament was formed in 1999, following Tony Blair's pledge to devolve authority for health, law and order, education and transport to the Scottish capital. The 129 MSPs were due to move into their permanent home in summer of 2001.

Designed by the late Spanish architect Enric Miralles, the futuristic granite and steel building in central Edinburgh has taken five years to complete as costs spiralled out of control. A 1997 government report estimated the cost of the building at between £10m and £40m.

Design changes, a doubling of space requirements and the deaths in 2000 of both Mr Miralles and the Parliament's first leader, Donald Dewar, all took their toll. Lord Fraser of Carmylie, the man appointed to investigate the spiralling costs and chronic delays which have turned a flagship project into a fiasco is expected to publish his findings next week.

Watched by a full house of spectators from the 225-seat public gallery, the first day's business began on time at 9.30am with a prayer. The Rev Charles Robertson, minister of Edinburgh's historic Canongate Kirk, which lies just a stone's throw from the new Parliament, caused a ripple of laughter when in outlining the history of the site he commented that it had once housed Scotland's largest independent geriatric hospital.

So far public reaction to the building, which cost £431m and took six years to build, has been mixed.

"There's so much concrete that from some angles it looks too much like a council tower block with fancy bits of wood stuck on the side," said Yvonne Stewart from Dundee. "It's a lot better inside than out but at the money it cost it should be."

Alex Dickie, 22, a student at Edinburgh University, was also rather reserved in his judgement. "I think it is perhaps trying a bit too hard. It is a bit flashy and not worth the money," he said.

The First Minister, Jack McConnell, said the building was "a credit to all of those who have worked hard and long over many months to design and build it." He also outlined plans to address the danger of internet grooming; increase confidence in charities; reform licensing laws; tackle drugs and violent crime and combat smoking in public places.

"This is a stunning building built, I know, with controversy and argument, but built too to capture the promise of devolution and the challenge to all of us to meet that promise. For the people of Scotland, it is not this building that really matters - it is what we do in this building that really matters."

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