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SOM's plans for Belgian NATO HQ hit by controversial two-year delay

Plans by SOM's London office for a massive new £300 million NATO headquarters in Belgium have already hit timetabling and design delays.

NATO has told the AJ that the flagship scheme - which was originally unveiled last January - has fallen two years behind its six-year design and construction programme.

Problems with the project scale have set back the design process after alliance bosses asked SOM to increase the scheme's capacity when six new countries were admitted to the coalition at the end of last year.

Since the competitionwinning designs were first drawn up, the Belgian government has also demanded that the project moves site, putting it in conflict with a Royal Belgium Air Force officers' club that is objecting to the new building.

This is not the first time the scheme has been hit by controversy. In June, American defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld triggered delays when he suspended cash flow from the US. He used the American stranglehold on funding for the project to force the Belgian courts to lift legal proceedings against himself, President Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney for 'war crimes' during the invasion of Iraq.

Ifthe project finally reaches completion it will include new diplomatic offices, military planning facilities and conference spaces for all the 32 member countries.

However, a NATO spokesman admitted that progress in the early design stages had been far from smooth. 'The project is still on and it has never been cancelled, ' he said. 'And the funding stream from the United States is now back on. But we have had to review the design requirements following the addition of the new members and this has put back the development of the project.

'The change of site has also presented some problems because there are buildings that need to be demolished and the requirements are different.

'We were hoping to start on site by 2005 but this has been put back until 2007, ' the spokesman added.

'We now do not think we will finish the new headquarters until 2010.'

The director of SOM's London office, Larry Oltmanns, said he could not comment on any problems.

'However, we are hoping to confirm our contract with NATO within the next few months, ' he added.

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