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Miralles was 'best of a bad bunch', inquiry told

Serious concerns were raised over the ability of Enric Miralles to design the Scottish parliament before the project even started on site, the Holyrood inquiry heard this week.

The Fraser investigation has studied memoranda from project director Bill Armstrong in which he expressed 'serious doubts' about whether the Scottish Executive should appoint the late architect.

Armstrong - in one secret 1998 memo to the Scottish Office's chief architect, Dr John Gibbons - attacked the proposals drawn up by the Barcelona-based architect.

'The decision to separate the various buildings seems a Spanish contextual decision and unsuited to the Scottish climate, ' he wrote. 'I think the scale is right but the planning is poor and does not respect the brief in terms of cost, area and working relationships.'

In another earlier memo, Armstrong also questioned the quality of the five-strong shortlist: 'I find only Viñoly and Miralles as serious contenders, and even then I have reservations and doubts on their abilities to produce the building we envisage within the brief, context and budget constraints.'

'I should think none of these proposals could be built within budget, ' it continues. 'I don't envy the secretary of state [Donald Dewar] in making a decision based on this poor response [to the competition].'

Holyrood commentator and author David Black said he was unsurprised the spotlight was moving from 'one dead person, Donald Dewar, to another'. 'There seem to have been major concerns over whether Miralles was up to the job, ' Black told the AJ. 'To most it seemed to be an ideas-based practice largely staffed with students. Everybody knew that Miralles was an exciting architect to be working on the project, ' he added. 'But there were concerns about his capacity to bring the project in on time and on budget.'

Lord Fraser QC is looking at how costs for the Holyrood building spiralled from £40 million at the outset to the present figure of £401 million (AJ 6.11.03). He is expected to report early in the new year.

The inquiry continues.

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