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Trying times for Cardiff's Millennium Stadium

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Growing doubts over the funding and capacity of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and uncertainty about key elements of its construction and facilities are fuelling concern in the city and beyond.

Welsh Rugby Union officials insist that the Lobb Partnership-designed stadium will be ready by the planned opening date in mid-June next year. Dick Larson, vice-president of project management consultant O'Brien Kreitzberg, claims that parts of the project are ahead of schedule and hopes that a match can be played there in May next year. But organisers of the 1999 rugby world cup are not so confident, and are reported to have begun talks on moving the final match either to Paris or to Twickenham. Even if the stadium is built in time, international officials are worried that it will be too small to host the final.

'This has got to be sorted out,' said Cardiff West mp Rhodri Morgan. 'Spending £120 million on the stadium and not playing the final there is ridiculous.' This and other concerns are dismissed by the promoter Millennium Stadium, jointly owned by the wru and Cardiff council. 'We are working to a very tight schedule,' said Glanmor Griffiths, wru chairman, 'but there are no issues we are aware of that will hinder the development of the stadium.'

With the project's cost rising from the original forecast of £114 million to a recent estimate of £121 million, and expected to increase even further, there is a continuing funding shortfall, although that has been partly alleviated by a stand sponsorship deal with bt. Utilities group Hyder is negotiating for an overall sponsorship deal to have its name in the stadium's title, but the Millennium Commission says that only matching funding to its own £46 million contribution will allow joint billing to another sponsor.

The target capacity of 73,000 people will have to be reduced by 15,000, say local safety chiefs, unless the promoters manage to secure funding for a key riverside walkway, which would cost £14 million, beneath the new west stand. Last year the wru applied to the Welsh Office for £7.5 million to help finance this part of the scheme, but that application and a renewed request earlier this year have been refused. Welsh Office ministers are adamant that funding must come from the private sector and that no further public money will be allocated to the scheme.

The wru is considering building a temporary £7 million bridge over the River Taff, instead of the walkway, although no provision has been made for that in the project's budget. Additional problems with the west stand have been created by arguments between the wru and the Cardiff rugby club. Cardiff rfc is expected to withdraw its cooperation from the project, amid disputed claims for compensation, and also refuses to sign a controversial 'loyalty' agreement committing it to ten-year participation in the wru, saying it will part company with the wru at the end of the season.

The stadium promoter needs part of the Cardiff club's land to build access and exit points for the west stand. Without the land, the stand's size and capacity will have to be scaled down significantly. Problems have also arisen outside the stadium itself, and initial plans for pedestrian walkways and plazas have been abandoned and replaced by more commercially oriented schemes for shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. The amended proposals have yet to receive detailed planning permission.

Brunswick Developments is submitting a revised application to Cardiff planners on 29 April. The revamped £30 million Millennium Plaza scheme now includes a 14-screen 3000-seat multiplex cinema to be operated by Ster Kinekor of South Africa, and a 600m2 Tuckers barbecue restaurant.

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