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Major design schemes underthreat from Chunnel fiasco

The possible collapse of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project has left designers dreading that billions of pounds of world-class architecture schemes will go down the tubes.

London & Continental Railway's problems with its fast link to the Channel Tunnel has thrown doubt over more than £3.4 billion worth of construction.

This includes major design schemes such as Sir Norman Foster's St Pancras terminal, a nearby hotel by rhwl, stations at Stratford and Ebbsfleet, and hill tunnelling. The project has already swallowed £140 million in design costs and feasibility studies, according to a finance spokesman for lcr.

lcr pleaded last week with deputy pm John Prescott, whose transport department owns most of the sites, for extra funding. Prescott has given them 30 days to solve the mess without extra cash. If they do not, the land, leased to lcr, will revert to the government. 'There is not much confidence for the people involved in construction,' said the spokesman. 'If the government says there will be no link, nothing will be built.'

John Hitchcox, managing director of Manhattan Loft Corporation, working with rhwl on the competition-winning hotel development, said: 'There is a shadow over all the schemes. I am sitting here with information from lcr coming in by the hour. We will have our fingers crossed for the 30- day period. It is very stressful.'

The fiasco further discredits pfi - the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was by far the biggest such project. The contract to build was given to lcr in 1996 and the total cost at completion was estimated at £5 billion. But lcr asked for £1.2 billion because Eurostar's losses of £150 million a year were too great, and the Chunnel fire in 1996 also hit business.

Jeremy Candfield, director of corporate affairs at lcr, said all projects were in the hands of John Prescott. 'It will be difficult to find other options within 30 days because a great deal of money, time and intellect was put into it, he said. 'We are preparing to run down the company in an orderly manner. But if we come up with a solution there is no reason to believe Foster's scheme, for example, will change.'

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said it was waiting for a proposal that would satisfy the department, lcr bankers and its shareholders. She admitted that other companies, including Railtrack, had expressed interest in taking over the project. Railtrack has confirmed it wants to build the 68-mile scheme.

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