Jenkins Design Services’ project for a new outdoor film set for TV soap EastEnders is running £27 million over budget and almost five years behind schedule, a damming report from the government’s spending watchdog has revealed
The National Audit Office said the Lancashire practice’s E20 development, being built at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, would not be completed until May 2023 and was currently forecast to cost £86.7 million.
The watchdog’s report (see attached) highlighted a number of inefficiencies, with design co-ordination problems sparking BBC-commissioned reviews and recruitment of a new programme director last year.
Communication between the BBC’s E20 programme team and the show’s producers was, for a period, found to be ‘ineffective’.
Critical design stages were completed without the appropriate approvals, according to the report, resulting in the production team making over 70 requests for changes eight months after the plans were supposed to be fixed. These were eventually rationalised into 16 amendments at a cost of about £440,000.
The project also suffered from construction cost inflation, the discovery of asbestos, and contractor procurement difficulties among other factors.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: ‘The BBC will not be able to deliver value for money on E20 in the way that it originally envisaged.
‘It is surprising that some of the reasons for this were built in from the beginning. We believe that the planned benefits are still broadly achievable, but given the high-risk nature of E20 it will need close scrutiny until it is finished.’
The external EastEnders set – which includes the iconic Albert Square – has been based at Elstree since the show was launched in 1984. It was only intended to be used for two years but is still in use despite being described by the NAO as ‘in poor condition’.
High definition filming is not possible as it would expose the artificial nature of elements of the set.
The BBC’s Executive Board approved the initial business case for the E20 replacement project in January 2014, expecting the original scheme to cost £59.7 million and complete in August 2018, according to the report.
Jenkins Design Services declined to comment.
The BBC has been contacted for comment.