Builders blame FA for Wembley delay

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The Independent Online

The row over the unfinished Wembley Stadium has gathered pace after the construction company Multiplex denied liability for the latest delays.

The announcement that no major events will be held at the £757m stadium until 2007 has left the Football Association (FA) and pop concert organisers desperately seeking new venues for a series of high-profile events.

Multiplex is claiming that delays to the stadium, which should have been finished in January this year, are the fault of WNSL, a wholly owned subsidiary of the FA. It will claim that WNSL demanded design changes that slowed construction, and hence it is not liable to pay penalty charges of £140,000 per day for being late.

"Multiplex is entitled to substantial and legitimate extensions of time under the terms of its construction contract which will extend the contract completion date until at least September 2006," the company said in a statement yesterday.

But WNSL and the FA said that they were confident that Multiplex was fundamentally to blame for not having the venue ready on time. "You only have to see what's not ready to realise this isn't about spec changes," one source said.

"The drainage isn't finished, the roof isn't done and there was a problem with a rafter that cleared the site. Multiplex changed steel contractors, which was down to them and cost time, and altered the reinforcement of the arch base. They changed their deadline three times and missed it. This cannot be blamed on spec changes that are common to any project of this kind."

WNSL's major headache will be lost revenue from planned events, including concerts in June by Bon Jovi and Take That (both have been moved to Milton Keynes), the Rolling Stones in August (moved to Twickenham) and Robbie Williams in September. A spokesman for Williams said: "Wembley Stadium today announced that they will not be able to accommodate the scheduled run of events for autumn 2006 including the Robbie Williams concerts. Alternative arrangements for Robbie's Wembley dates are being made and an announcement as to the venue will be made as soon as the details are confirmed."

Rugby League's Challenge Cup final, on 26 August, has been moved to Twickenham. The Rugby League has sold almost 35,000 tickets for the event.

All the non-football events would have earned WNSL money and instead will cost in cancellation fees, although the bill will probably be "millions, not tens of millions".

Eight football matches scheduled for 2006 will also be moved, starting with the FA Cup final on 13 May, which had already been switched to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The Football League's three play-off finals will also be in Wales, as will the Community Shield, on 13 August.

An England friendly the same month, and England's opening two home games in the Euro 2008 qualifying rounds, against Andorra in September and Macedonia in October, will probably be moved to Old Trafford. The FA will still make money from the games at the alternative venues, albeit less than at the 90,000-capacity Wembley.

The FA had been due to make the first £40m repayment in September on the £433m of loans it took out to build the £757m stadium. It has started talks with its bankers to renegotiate.

"Further to recent meetings with Multiplex and WNSL, it is clear that the construction of Wembley Stadium is significantly behind schedule," the FA said in a statement. "Multiplex has now supplied WNSL and the FA with an updated schedule. From the new schedule it is apparent that Wembley will not be available to host our autumn fixtures.

"We do not want to set deadlines on when the stadium will open and be faced with the constant speculation surrounding this as we approach individual fixtures. Therefore, we believe it is important we are transparent with our plans.

"The FA and WNSL continue to meet with banks and other key stakeholders to discuss the current status of the project and ensure we have the appropriate plans in place moving forward."

The Wembley project has been dogged by a series of problems, forcing Multiplex to issue six profit warnings last year. The Australian firm is expected to make a £200m loss on the venture, and more if it fails in its bid not to pay the overrun penalties. Multiplex said yesterday that it expected to "substantially" complete work at Wembley by the end of June this year and expected no further change to the project's financial position.

Events looking for a new home

By Louise Jack

* 13 May

Both the FA Cup final and league play-offs finals - to be played after the FA Cup final - will be held at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

* 30 May

England pre-World Cup friendly against Hungary will be played at Old Trafford in Manchester.

* 3 June

England pre-World Cup friendly against Jamaica will also take place at Old Trafford.

* 10, 11 June

Bon Jovi concerts will now take place at the Milton Keynes Bowl.

* 24, 25 June

Take That concerts have also been moved to the Milton Keynes Bowl.

* 13 August

The FA Community Shield - venue unconfirmed.

* 16 August

England friendly match, opposition and venue to be confirmed.

* 20, 22 August

The Rolling Stones concerts moved to Twickenham.

* 26 August

Rugby Football League Powergen Challenge Cup final will be played at Twickenham.

* 2 September

England European championship qualifying match against Andorra - venue unconfirmed.

* 14-16, 18 and 19 September

Robbie Williams concerts. Alternative venue arrangements are being made.

* 7 October

England European championship qualifying match against Macedonia - venue unconfirmed.