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Alun Michael defends Welsh Assembly's 'reasonable' cost

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Welsh first secretary Alun Michael has leapt to the defence of spiralling costs over Cardiff's proposed new Welsh Assembly building. Although it will now cost £22.8 million, not £12 million, it will, he says, still prove 'excellent value for money.'

Assembly members were told last week that the Richard Rogers-designed building at Cardiff Bay (aj 20.01.00) will cost almost £3 million more even than the amended £20 million figure, forecast only last July. A full debate in the Assembly yesterday was expected to approve the latest revised plans and to give the go-ahead for land acquisition and planning applications.

Michael defended the scheme, explaining that increased costs have come from a combination of inflation, design changes and the extension of the design process to include landscaping.

'The original cost was for the building itself and did not extend to the exterior or beyond the site boundary,' he said. 'The latest forecast is still entirely reasonable for the provision of a public building of this calibre.'

Substantial alterations have been made to the original plans, following comments from Assembly members and officials. 'The most significant change,' said Michael, 'is to the external space at the front of the building to provide equal access for people with a disability.'

Others include provision of a raised access road, while internal changes centre on creating less-open spaces for the three committee rooms, providing separate sound and translation booths, and introducing viewing galleries. The capacity of the public gallery around the main chamber has been increased. Michael added that the changes have been kept to a minimum but were intended to meet Assembly members' 'needs and aspirations'.

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