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Who'd build a stadium?

Tom Fitzpatrick

It’s not been the most auspicious summer for London’s Premier League clubs looking to expand their stadiums. 

First we had the news that a sulking Roman Abramovich was mothballing Chelsea’s plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge

The club blamed the move – announced against the backdrop of Abramovich’s UK visa row – on an “unfavourable investment climate”. 

And now this week Mace has told Spurs that safety standards won’t be met in time for its planned first game against Liverpool at its new £800m stadium.

The club will now play additional games at Wembley, a move that has infuriated fans and no doubt left the Spurs hierarchy more than a little peeved at their contractors.

Yet the fact is this project was always operating on the tightest of timeframes. CN has been told repeatedly over the past year that it wouldn’t be ready for September.

Just expanding a stadium is far from a sure thing, let alone demolishing one and building a replacement on virtually the same site.

The experiences of Multiplex with Wembley, Laing with the Millennium Stadium or even Balfour’s Olympic conversion have shown getting it wrong on a stadium can be financially damaging.

One reader, who claims to have turned down a role fitting out Spurs’ new ground, suggests the job is symptomatic of wider failures with the contracting process, driven by “totally unrealistic client demands, to keep prelims low by unrealistic delivery dates” and main contractors signing up to terms they can’t meet.

Mace and its subcontractors are keeping their cards close to their chest, but Spurs are known for playing the hardest of hardballs in transfer dealings.

Whatever the contract terms, you can’t imagine them being favourable when it comes to time delays and possible liquidated damages.

Spurs owner Joe Lewis is thought to be the UK’s fifth-richest man, having allegedly made a vast sum on Black Wednesday in 1992.

One can imagine he won’t be feeling much sympathy for the contractors as he hears the latest news at his home in the Bahamas. 

I visited Anfield in 2016, several months before it was due to open with an expanded Main Stand that would take capacity to 54,000.

The club ended up having to play the first three games away from home, as Spurs had planned to do this season, before opening at full capacity.

My vivid memory of that tour is Carillion’s project manager joking about not having slept for ages due to the complexity and pressure of the job. His eyes suggested it wasn’t entirely a joke.

The club’s stadium manager made a point that day of getting the PM to agree in front of everyone it would complete on time and budget.

I came away wondering why on earth he took the job and marvelling at the expertise behind the project (the PM later went on to the Royal Liverpool Hospital, so was either a glutton for punishment or simply highly regarded – perhaps both).

Perhaps the clearest assessment of how difficult stadium work can be emerged in CN’s special report last year, in which Mace’s Davendra Dabasia explained that “the sheer size makes it a challenge”.

“If you get one detail wrong, it multiplies by hundreds of thousands,” he added. “The big challenge from a contractor’s point of view is the risk you take – you only need to do one area wrong and your margins are out of the door very quickly.” 

Readers' comments (3)

  • As with a lot of projects that get into difficulty, the project team and the 3800 workers doing their best deserve great credit for the sacrifices they are making to recover problems created earlier on the process.

    The most influential period in determining whether a project could be a success or failure is the bid process. Some of the most successful projects are those we decline to bid.

    Customers and contractors get what they deserve, but its the guys on the ground that often shoulder the burden on a very personal level. To use a football term...I guess the project team got a hospital pass, and that can be painful!

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  • I have built a few stadium projects and everyone knew this would never be done on that programme, it wont be that the safety systems don't work they wont be complete yet.

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  • As an Arsenal fan this debacle is hugely entertaining, I regard The Emirates project as an exemplar of its type - it won Project of the Year award in 2007 I believe, somehow I doubt this project will emulate that achievement.

    I have read numerous articles around the problems with this project, only those on the inside know the true story. Two things that I would like clarified are:

    1: Is it true that a competitor to Mace indicated December 2018 as a realistic target in the bid process?

    2: I read somewhere that there is no main contractor - I assume that MACE are the main contractors.

    On a project of this scale I would have expected the client to have their own Project Management specialists who could assure the veracity of plans and targets being used by the main contractor, is such an arrangement in place?

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