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Public deceived about the costs of mega-projects

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Most major building projects only get the goahead because their promoters lie about their true cost, according to a controversial new study.

 

The authors of Megaprojects and Risk claim that drastic cost underestimates in the early stages of projects such as Portcullis House and Sydney Opera House are the real reason costs later appear to spiral out of control.

 

Bent Flyvbjerg, the Danish sociologist who wrote the study along with Nils Bruzelius and Werner Rothengatter, said architects can contribute to the deception. And they should take a more active role in ensuring projects come in on time and to budget - as Gehry did with the Bilbao Guggenheim. Flyvbjerg is calling for an independent auditing body, such as the Audit Commission, to assess costings on publicly funded megaprojects before they win approval, not after they have run into trouble.

 

The study concludes that cost overruns occur on 90 per cent of projects, that overruns of 50 per cent are very common and above 100 per cent are not uncommon, and that deception and cost overun are as prevalent in the UK as in any developed nation. ‘Deception is at play with these types of projects, ’ Flyvbjerg said, ‘and a lack of willingness to learn from experience. It is predictable that something is likely to go wrong, even if it is unpredictable what it will be.’ He added: ‘But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can build architectural treasures without lying at the outset.’

 

Sir Peter Hall, professor of planning at UCL, agreed that there was a ‘tendency for professional consultants to tell clients what they want to hear’.

 

And he warned that supporters of an Olympic bid for London could be underestimating the cost and exaggerating the benefits of hosting the games.

 

Megaprojects and Risk: an anatomy of ambition is published by Cambridge University Press.

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