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16Aug91 UK: COST OF BIRMINGHAM'S INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE RISES TO MORE THAN £200M.

The cost of Birmingham's troubled International Conference Centre has soared to more than £200 million, opposition Tory councillors claimed this week.The latest predicted cost increase, which is hotly disputed, comes just one month after a confidential report was put before Birmingham City Council. This revised the final cost of the centre by £20 million to £180 million.The report blamed higher than expected costs on interior contracts and additional fees for designers and architects.But Fred Hayles, leader of the Tory group, blames 'slap-happy political control' for the huge overrun.Commenting on the findings of the report, he said: 'This may not be the final bill. It is more likely to end up nearer £200 million than £180 million.'Mr Hayes added: 'Cash ceilings have been exceeded time and time again over the years.'When the ambitious conference centre was first approved as a major alternative to similar facilities in London the price tag was £121 million. Since then the final cost has been raised three times.Project controller David Bucknall of Bucknall Austin dismissed the councillors' claims.He said: 'I don't believe we will exceed the £180 million figure. In fact I'm confident we will settle below it.'There were about 150 work packages on the big conference centre which was finished last April.Mr Bucknall said some of these have legitimate claims for extra work.About 50 contractors have outstanding claims with the city council as a result of design changes and problems on the site.About £5 million is understood to have been put aside as a negotiating margin for whether they are settled favourably or unfavourably.Labour leader Sir Richard Knowles said the council had done well to peg costs at the present level.He added: 'Most massive projects do cost more than expected. Our problem was that it was built in a boom.'The most remarkable botch-up at the site came to light when a preassembled overhead walkway was lifted into place to join the conference centre to the nearby Hyatt hotel. It was found to be 4 m short.It was discovered that the hotel had been redesigned and moved 4 m away from the conference centre. The final bill for the repairs was £100,000.