Wembley Stadium’s iconic arch is now a familiar sight to Londoners and football fans alike. But engineers will not have forgotten the delays, cost overruns and legal battles that made this project truly memorable.
Of course the stadium it replaced was itself iconic. Built for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, the Empire Stadium and its twin towers was designed by engineer Sir Owen Williams. It took less than one year to complete at a cost of £750,000.
Its replacement proved far more laborious for the design consortium that included Mott MacDonald and its contractor Australian construction firm Multiplex. Delays meant the project was finished a year late, and came it at almost double the original budget at £798M. Design and build contractor Multiplex was on a fixed price contract and was hit hard.
The old Empire Stadium closed in October 2000 but financing problems from the outset meant it was not demolished until 2003. Construction was plagued by delays, not least when steelwork subcontractor Cleveland Bridge walked off site in July 2004. The new stadium was finally handed over to client Football Association subsidiary Wembley National Stadium Limited in March 2007 and opened for the FA Cup final in May.
But that was far from the end of the story, with the row over who should pay for the cost overruns hitting extreme levels shortly before Christmas 2008 when Multiplex hit Mott MacDonald with a £253M claim.
The 586 page document accused the consultant of failing to consider the stresses induced in the complex arch structure during erection and of failing to supply an adequate erection sequence for the stadium.
It also claimed that Mott MacDonald failed to produce complete steelwork drawings, did not respond to technical queries from the steelwork subcontractors in a timely or adequate manner and issued numerous and late changes to the design throughout the project, increasing steelwork costs and delaying the opening.
The case quickly became one the biggest even seen by the Technology and Construction Court, dwarfing an earlier claim made by Multiplex against Cleveland Bridge for its actions on the same project. That legal battle rumbled on for four years until September 2008, saw the bill for photocopying alone hit £1M, and ended with Multiplex being awarded just £6M plus costs of around £2M.
The Motts-Muliplex battle ended in June 2010 after Motts and Multiplex’s new owners Brookfield headed the advice of the judge presiding over the case. Justice Coulson told the parties to settle out of court or face costs likely to be in excess of £74M.
The value of the out-of-court settlement was never revealed.
But now to most that is all forgotten, and all that matters is that the main bone of contention - the stadium’s 133m high lattice steel arch - is as iconic as the old towers it replaced.