Assembly sacks Lord Rogers from £27m HQ project

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The Independent Online

The Welsh Assembly sacked Lord Rogers of Riverside yesterday from his position as head of the troubled project to build its £27m headquarters after a row over spiralling costs and delays.

His contract was terminated with immediate effect after assembly members said they had lost confidence in his company, the Richard Rogers Partnership, and the prestigious project in Cardiff Bay has been put on hold.

The Assembly is now considering scrapping the project even though work started four-and-a-half months ago. The original budget was set at £26.6m but an internal report has now put the estimated total cost at between £37m and £47m.

A cross-party monitoring group said it did not want to abandon the project but raised questions about whether key elements of the headquarters can be built, including its roof.

The problems that have bedevilled the Cardiff project follow similar financial wrangling and delays over the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

The Richard Rogers Partnership responded angrily to the move and said it had always maintained the project could not be built within a construction budget of £13.1m. In a statement, the company said: "RRP's advice was consistently ignored. It is plainly untrue for the Finance Minister to assert that RRP underestimated the costs.

"RRP rejects being made a political scapegoat for a catastrophic failure properly to manage the project."

Lord Rogers has been behind some of the most controversial and spectacular buildings in Europe, including the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in Greenwich.

The Assembly will now look to other companies to complete the headquarters based on RRP's original design. The building would then either be leased to the Assembly or sold to it for an agreed sum. The final decision on whether to proceed with the building will be taken at that stage and work will be suspended until another firm has been brought in.

Ministers said there was no prospect of the project being completed before the next Assembly elections in May 2003.

Although Lord Rogers' design will be used there will be significant changes, including a smaller roof and the scrapping of a courtyard. A report last year said the bill for housing the Welsh Assembly was expected to be more than double the original estimate and was nearly two years behind schedule.

Edwina Hart, the Finance Minister for Wales, said the Assembly had to act to protect taxpayers' money.

"It is the Assembly's duty to act professionally and responsibly, to be vigilant on behalf of the people of Wales and to do everything possible to reduce costs and obtain value for money," she said.

"I believe the course of action set down in the motion offers the best way forward to ensure the people of Wales and the Assembly have the landmark building they deserve. A final decision on whether to proceed would then be taken in the light of the proposals received."

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