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Mitsubishi abandons Millennium Wheel

JAPAN'S MITSUBISHI Corporation has walked away from its contract to design and build London's giant Millennium Wheel after failing to meet time and quality specifications for the landmark structure.

It is understood that Mitsubishi finally pulled out of the project last month after speculation that it was struggling to meet the wheel's tight budget and programme.

A source close to the project said a new contractor was brought in immediately to continue the design preparation work. As a result Mitsubishi's departure is not thought to have delayed the project.

Scheme promoter, the British Airways-backed Millennium Wheel Company, refused to disclose this week who the new contractor was and would say only that it was finalising contracts before announcing the new project team next week. It is understood that the new contractor is British.

A BA spokeswoman said: 'We have never confirmed who we were talking to about the design and construction of the project. We are confident that we can complete the project and are aiming for the wheel to be turning before the millennium.'

BA is also expected to reveal the name of the company that will eventually operate the wheel next week.

The 135m diameter wheel sited on the south bank of the River Thames will be the world's biggest, despite being reduced in size by 10% to meet planning requirements.

Each of the 32 gondolas will carry 25 people at a constant rate of one revolution every 25 minutes. It is expected to cost around pounds12M to construct and is designed by architects David Marks & Julia Barfield. Originally the wheel was to be engineered by Ove Arup until the project moved to design and build. Allott and Lomax is technical advisor and independent design checker on the project.

Although no contract was ever signed between the MWC and Mitsubishi's parent company Marubeni, letters of intent had been in place since July. Marubeni was thought to have committed funding to the project and contracted Mitsubishi to construct the wheel. It had been rumoured that the economic downturn in Japan contributed to its withdrawal.

Mitsubishi's replacement is expected to be another manufacturing group with the same breadth of expertise. Construction of the structure has been described as 'exceptionally complex' and will require a combination of structural, mechanical and electrical engineering skills.

Antony Oliver

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