Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Approaching the final whistle

Stadium construction - The world is watching as the UK's Wembley Stadium nears completion. Its construction director Mike Richardson talks to Ruby Kitching.

Mike Richardson is sitting in his office overlooking Wembley Stadium feeling calm and collected. Yet his project is running months late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget - the delay has led to the FA Cup final being relocated to Cardiff, some 256km away. However, 'if you can't be calm about things at my age, when can you be-' he reasons.

Richardson is project manager for client Wembley National Stadium Ltd (WNSL).

At 65, the ex-Atkins director has had years of experience at the helm of complex, large scale projects. He was project director for Dubai's uber luxurious Burj Al Arab tower for four years before taking on his current position.

Throughout the saga that has accompanied the construction of Wembley Stadium - steelwork contractors being sacked, the wrong concrete being poured, subcontractors going bust and the threat of industrial action (see box), the owner of the stadium has remained relatively unaffected, Richardson maintains. It nailed contractor Multiplex down to a fixed price design and build contract, so will not dirty its hands in the upcoming fight for compensation facing Multiplex.

NCE joined Richardson last Thursday to see how the most famously delayed stadium in the world is progressing.

Since the Football Association announced in February that the 2006 Cup Final would not be held at Wembley the pressure on the stadium owner has eased slightly. 'We applied an awful lot of pressure on Multiplex to get the job done on time and they put a lot of pressure on themselves as well. But there were points when we just knew the 31 January completion date would not be met.' Multiplex originally worked to a completion target of autumn 2005 but, after missing this, concentrated on 31 January.

The latest completion date is now 31 March, although Richardson admits there is little chance the contractor will hit this date. The project most recently lost two weeks in February due to high winds putting cranes out of action (News last week), and Richardson thinks it will be difficult to claw back time from the hold up.

'It's not going to be far off 31 March - a few weeks, not years, ' Richardson offers evasively.

The latest revised completion date has not yet been agreed between the contractor and WNSL, but it will be Richardson's signature that will certify when the stadium has been completed.

Richardson walks around the site daily to check up and do some preliminary snagging.

He is chirpy as he ducks under loose cables and side steps stacks of cladding panels.

'The only thing that bothers me is the lies printed in the newspapers. You know, things like the stadium is subsiding or the concrete is all honeycombing - it's the blokes with the mobile phones taking pictures of things that's causing trouble, ' he says.

Richardson joined the project in 2003, at a time when he affectionately recalls that the project was 10 weeks ahead of schedule. Back then there were only piling contractor Stent and demolition contractor McGee on site. There are now 80 contractors present, making co-ordination the biggest job of the day.

With more than 3,500 workers scrambling over each other to install lights, paint walls, fit facia boards, and wire and plumb in various equipment, Richardson's greatest concern is that quality will be compromised. The difference between Wembley and any other stadium in the world, he explains, is that it is designed to the specification of a five star hotel.

As he walks around the site he tuts at the sight of freshly mounted precast cladding units that are rust stained because operations overhead have been badly co-ordinated.

As he enters one of the hospitality suites, he points out another annoyance. 'See this bar- I signed it off last week and now it's covered in dust as the decorators work around it. I'm going to have to check this again.' Subcontractors are aware of this problem - they claim they could spend their whole time laying protective covers on new floors and walls and never get any work done.

'They've now decided to run vehicles over some of the reconstituted stone floors and replace any damaged slabs later, ' says Richardson. He is exasperated by the needless re-work being created.

There are still some major hurdles to clear. But since the stadium roof was depropped last month, Richardson's confidence in has grown. 'It's ever so simple now - just take down the temporary towers [which were supporting the roof] and get on with the pitch and terracing, while lifting in the final sections of the moveable roof and roof sheeting, ' he chirps.

Richardson expects the temporary towers to be down by mid-March when the race will be on to finish the moveable roof ready for testing in April.

The sheer volume of work remaining is daunting. Lighting and speaker systems are still being erected. The main service road in the stadium has to be surfaced and kerbs installed. The back of the stadium needs to be clad. Finishing the pitch is a significant job since about a third of the area is still occupied by temporary works.

These areas must be excavated down to the pitch base, where a waterproof membrane, drainage pipes, granular fill, sand, growing medium and heating pipes need to be laid before the two inches of turf are brought in.

Still, Richardson is does not seem daunted: 'This is what you get when you're doing £4M-£5M ($7-$8.5M) of work a week.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.