Scots face bill of £195m for new parliament

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After months of rumour and speculation, the cost of the new Scottish Parliament was officially confirmed yesterday as £230m, more than four times the original estimate.

The news led to demands from Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader, that an alternative to the current site beside the Queen's official residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse be considered.

His call was backed by David McLetchie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who said: "The Labour Executive have put Parliament in a hole and they now have a second chance to get us out of it.

"We have an opportunity to make a comparison of costs between locations, to identify the provision of an appropriate parliament building at the least cost to the Scottish taxpayer."

However, Scotland's First Minister, Donald Dewar, rejected the demand. He said: "A decision to abandon Holyrood would involve a delay of several years. There is nothing in the report to suggest that a suitable building on another site would be a cost-effective alternative."

His view was endorsed by John Spencely, an architectural specialist, who wrote yesterday's report. Mr Spencely said: "The state of the project has nothing to do with the location of the site. Changing the site would mean starting again." Members of the Scottish Parliament will be asked to vote next week to decide if they want a revised project to go ahead on the slightly lower budget of £195m, which the report said was achievable.

It is not clear which way the vote will go, but rejection of the plans would be a personal defeat for Mr Dewar, who backs the Holyrood site. He has been accused by political opponents of choosing the site at Holyrood in January 1998 in the belief that another potential site at Edinburgh's Calton Hill had too many nationalist connotations.

Subsequently, the Lib-Lab coalition in Edinburgh has faced a barrage of criticism over the cost of the project after the initial estimate of £50m soared. In June last year Mr Dewar told MSPs the project would cost an estimated £90m, but this figure was later revised to £109m.

Yesterday's report also warned that the latest timetable for completion of the building by the end of 2002, ready for occupation in August 2003, was unlikely to be achieved. More realistic estimates were delivery by August 2003 and occupation by the end of that year, said the report.