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Scots Parliament 'to cost £300M'

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The Scottish Parliament Building is set to enter the record books as having spun out of financial control even more disastrously than the Millennium Dome, according to ministers north of the border who now put its cost at a staggering £300 million.

Scottish National Party MSPMargo MacDonald's estimate of the controversial building's final cost last week represents a 2,900 per cent increase on the £10 million the Scottish Office once claimed it could be delivered for.

The building's £40 million pre-referendum budget was officially fixed at £195 million, a rise of almost 400 per cent compared to the Millennium Dome's 35 per cent increase in construction costs, the Palace of Westminster's 200 per cent, and the previous 300 per cent record rise which the National Audit Office attributed to MI5's London base.

Desperate efforts to trim costs are producing yet more negative publicity for a project which was personally promoted by First Minister Donald Dewar with the backing of Downing Street before the Edinburgh Parliament was formally constituted. The most recent criticisms focus on an alleged bid to undercut the £1.3 million estimated cost of Scottish-sourced granite by substituting it with cheaper imports from India. 'It is ludicrous in any case to bring building materials halfway around the world when we already have it here, ' said Kevin Dunion, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.'The proximity principle is a vital component of any policy of environmental sustainability, and for a flagship building like a national parliament any alternative is unacceptable.'

The executive is also attempting to off-load liabilities for the new traffic scheme resulting from the development onto an unwilling local authority, while Conservative MSP James Douglas- Hamilton has questions about projected landscaping costs allegedly being routed through Historic Scotland. Few MSPs believe that the capped cost of £195 million which the parliament voted for by a narrow majority last April is now a realistic target.

William Armstrong, the first project manager who resigned after claiming that his warnings on cost increases were being persistently ignored, also revealed that he advised the competition panel against using the late Enric Miralles at the outset. 'When I did a siftthrough of the first submissions I didn't even include him in the 20 possibles who, in my view, had the capacity to cope with a contract of this scale, ' said Armstrong. 'I was then told to put him back on the list.'

The AJ has also learned from sources close to the project that the contract was awarded to Bovis Lend Lease in early 1999 despite the fact that its tender was higher than a rival bid from McAlpines. It is also claimed that a substantially redrafted agreement was drawn up on 20 May in which control of the project was effectively handed over to Bovis, despite protests from Enric Miralles, who was by that time gravely ill.

MacDonald, a leading opponent of the Holyrood project, claims that the 5 April decision to press ahead with the scheme was a disastrous mistake. 'As far as I can see the only way for the Scottish Parliament to meet these costs will be for the finance minister to spread out payments over the next four or five years, which impacts on the spending plans of the next parliament, ' she said.'The critical decisions were taken in the beginning at Westminster, and since central government bears the initial responsibility, it should meet much of the cost.'

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