As the news broke of main contractor Laing's provision for a 20M-plus loss on the project last week, losing bidders Ballast Nedam, Sir Robert McAlpine/ Impregilo and Bovis are sure to have breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Phased completion of the 75,000 seater stadium, funded by 46M of lottery money and a loan from Barclays Bank, was due to start in the first half of next year. The completed stadium was then expected to open in June in time for a match between Wales and South Africa. Four months later it is scheduled to host the Rugby World Cup. US project manager O'Brien Kreitzburg, which oversaw the construction of facilities for the Atlanta Olympics, was brought in to make sure everything went smoothly.
Laing took on the guaranteed maximum price project on the basis of what it now claims were sketchy conceptual plans from architects and stadium specialist Lobb Partnership. It was a decision which the Financial Times was to damn as 'madcap', suggesting that Laing had been blinded to the risks by the kudos of building the stadium. Certainly, the fiercely patriotic Laing Civil Engineering managing director Tony Evans, who led the contractor's bidding team, is likely to have had some hard questions to answer over the last few weeks.
Soon after the contractor, and its structures consultant WS Atkins, began work in June 1996 it was clear there was trouble ahead - although not how much.
The crunch came with a dispute between co-client, the Welsh Rugby and Cardiff Rugby Club over the demolition of the North Stand of Cardiff Arms Park. CRC blocked work because the stand supports the roof for the south stand of its ground. The result was a scrapping of the original plan to demolish the centre section.
The arena, including the UK's first, highly complex retractable roof, had to be redesigned, considerably upping the materials costs and cutting crowd capacity by 1,500. Wrangles with the CRC meant that the on-site start date was delayed from autumn 1996 to February last year.
Persistent bad weather, collapse of a wall and a dispute with Italian steel subcontractor Cimolai compounded problems.
This summer, with the project already two months behind schedule, Rugby World Cup chairman Leo Williams expressed doubts that the stadium would be ready in time for the tournament. Laing denied this, but has since stepped up work on site to a 24 hour programme. As a result the contractor has agreed to install secondary glazing in a number of nearby flats, and to pay for any fitted nearby since 1996.
The project has also been plagued by rows over funding. An exit on to the stadium's River Taff frontage is needed if the ground is to obtain a safety certificate. Laing wants the Welsh Office to foot 3M of the bill, but in return the government department is demanding a seat on the board of the company that will run the stadium.
Laing has conceded that the stadium will not be ready to host the Welsh Cup Final in May, forcing the WRU to find an English venue for the second year running. The contractor claims the stadium will be ready for the South Africa game, although probably at reduced capacity. All the seats will be in place for the World Cup according to Laing, although there remains a question mark over whether or not the retractable roof will be operational.
Laing faces swingeing penalties for late competition, but claims it will be attempting to recover costs from the designer and client. The WRU says it is not expecting any legal action and that Laing is 'a big company ... [which] can absorb substantial losses'.
Laing Construction chairman David Blair has vowed that the contractor will never again work on a similar basis for a special purpose company like the one created by the WRU and Cardiff City Council to construct the stadium.