MSPs lift cash curb on 'Dome' of Scotland

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The Scottish Parliament voted last night to lift a £195m cap on the spiralling cost of the new parliamentary building being erected at Holyrood in Edinburgh.

MSPs were told that the final cost of the building was likely to surpass £200m and that the original completion date of September 2001 would be overrun by at least a year. Opposition MSPs were claiming that the figure could be nearer £240m.

Approval for the motion to permit additional expenditure came following the resignation on Tuesday of Alan Ezzi, the Holyrood Project's second director in less than a year. He is believed to have been forced out by MSPs who feared that his commitment to hitting the £195m budget target would diminish the quality of the building.

The Holyrood Parliament, designed by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles and compared to "two upturned boats", was commissioned by the former Scottish first minister Donald Dewar and originally budgeted at just £40m. That estimate rose to £109m in 1999 and was capped at £195m in April 2000.

At First Minister's questions in Edinburgh yesterday, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, David McLetchie, accused Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs of demanding "a blank cheque" and of mismanaging "a national folly which brings politics into disrepute and brings disgrace to this parliament". He demanded to know "which budgets will have to be cut to pay for it".

Michael Russell, an SNP spokesman, described the new building as "a terrible epitaph for Scotland's Parliament" and claimed that disputes over costs were "damaging devolution".

He said that "it would add insult to injury" if spending on education had to be reduced to pay for the building.

Henry McLeish, the First Minister, told the Parliament that "the suggestion that any funds from education will be used ... is simply untrue", but other Labour spokesmen confirmed that funding would have to be found from within the existing executive budget.

Mr Russell also demanded that ministers from the Scottish Executive take over responsibility for the project.

John Home-Robertson MSP, the Labour convener of the cross-party Holyrood Project Group, admitted that it was impossible, even now, to put a limit on the completion cost. "That would mean finishing the building and putting a cheap and nasty roof on it, " he said.

Speaking in support of the motion to permit additional expenditure, the Labour MSP Des McNulty claimed that the increased cost was the result of 16 per cent inflation in Edinburgh's construction industry. He said: "I believe the building should be finished to the standard Scotland expects."

Before the debate, William Armstrong, a former manager of the project who resigned in 1998, said the building would still be completed no matter what it cost or how long it took.

"If you can swallow that, you can get on with the job. If not, you leave," he added. "It is very sad because this should have been an icon for devolution, but it has become a bit of a Dome."