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Rogers' Welsh Assembly 'too big for the site'

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Welsh Assembly officials are in talks with ABP subsidiary Grosvenor Waterside about buying more land at Cardiff Bay because the present site of the new National Assembly for Wales building is not now considered big enough to contain the Richard Rogers Partnership scheme.

In part the need for more land stems from assembly members' insistence on incorporating a larger public gallery and improved public facilities. Assembly leaders and members are anxious to have more administrative and private-office space in the building, and it is intended also to extend the steps at the front of the building so that they go right down to the waterfront. Attention is being focused on making the building fully accessible to disabled people and to using renewable energy systems throughout.

Opposition politicians have roundly condemned what they describe as the 'incompetence' of the Labour administration in having to seek additional land at such a late stage in the project.

The final plans for the Richard Rogers-designed building on Cardiff 's waterfront have not yet been approved and officials say that several options are still being considered. The final design brief is being prepared and an assembly steering group has yet to consider the latest development proposals and cost estimates.

Despite these delays, and with no application for planning permission yet submitted, First Secretary Alun Michael told assembly members last week that building work should begin next year, with completion two years later.

The Richard Rogers Partnership has confirmed to assembly officials that the original competition-winning design could still be built for £12.5 million. However, this is before any changes to the design or increases in the building's size are taken into account.

The partnership's James Leeson said that nothing definite had yet been agreed and a meeting between the firm and assembly officials yesterday was merely for the exchange of information. 'We haven't really moved on much from the original concept design, ' he said. He added that there is bound to be some slippage in building start and completion dates.

While staunchly maintaining that the present accommodation and the proposed new building offer the best cost option for housing the assembly, the first secretary has revealed that nearly £7m has been spent to date on adapting Crickhowell House, the assembly's present home, and repairing and renovating the nearby listed Pierhead Building, currently used for office and meeting accommodation. A further £1 million or so is scheduled to be spent over the next two years to improve working conditions at Crickhowell House, where the assembly has a lease until 2023, and to provide a public-education and visitor centre in the Pierhead Building, which is leased until 2013. Annual running costs for the two buildings are estimated at around £4m.

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