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Ready to Rumble

Wembley Stadium opened in March 2007, 10 months late. But the legal battle to recover costs had already started three years earlier. It is still going on with the latest claim lodged last month against stadium designer Mott MacDonald.

Last month consultant Mott MacDonald received what is thought to be the biggest construction claim in history. The demand for a massive £253M arises from a dispute over the construction of the new Wembley Stadium, for which the consultant was the structural engineer. It came from Brookfield Construction, which was trading as Multiplex Constructions when it was the main contractor for the £798M Wembley project.

Brookfield/Multiplex’s claim follows on the heels of the four year legal battle between Multiplex and steelwork subcontractor Cleveland Bridge over the same project. It was a protracted, drawn out affair where the photocopying bill alone came to a cool £1M.

Steelwork was at the heart of that dispute and is also key to this dispute between Brookfield and Mott MacDonald. Wembley Stadium’s signature steel arch is a huge 7.2m diameter curved tubular truss spanning 317m along the length of the stadium. Cables running down from the arch partially support the northern roof section. This and the southern section are static, while the roofs over the eastern and western ends are retractable. Multiplex successfully pursued Cleveland Bridge through the courts claiming that the subcontractor had been in breach of contract when it walked off the project in August 2004.

Last September Multiplex was awarded £6M plus costs (NCE 2 October 2008). Now Brookfield is after Mott MacDonald, claiming the firm is to blame for numerous delays to the steelwork, which it says ultimately caused Cleveland to walk off site.

In the 586-page claim lodged with the Technology & Construction Court shortly before Christmas, and acquired by NCE last week, Brookfield alleges Mott MacDonald had failed to provide accurate design information on time on several occasions. It claims that the consultant also made numerous changes to the designs issued for construction.

Cleveland’s deadline for full and final structural design was January 2003. This was set to ensure that allotted production slots and programme dates could be met. But Brookfield claims that in the period leading up to March 2004, "Mott continued to issue late, revised and inadequate design drawings", according to legal papers. It says that up to July 2005, "the progress of steelwork was impeded by Mott’s continued late revisions to the design, necessitating retrofit works on-site and delaying completion of the steel frame".

A letter from Cleveland to Multiplex in November 2003 said: "Back at the end of June 2003, it was agreed to implement a design freeze …We later received a revised set of engineers [sic] drawings in mid- September 2003 . . . "The amount of changes since mid-September have not diminished if anything they have increased, we are currently working on over 100 sketches/ instructions/RFIs [requests for information] which have not been updated onto the engineers drawings… If this continues we will continue to fail to meet programmes because the project as a whole has totally lost control of the changes."

The project opened 10 months late, in March 2007. But Multiplex had been aiming to complete the project by September 2005 in the hope of earning an early completion bonus. This meant that the project was effectively completed 18 months later than planned.

According to Brookfield, steel erection on site was a key critical activity that had to be carried out on time so the follow-on trades could get to work. Lack of on site storage space necessitated a just-in-time delivery process. As the planned erection rate was higher than fabrication rate, a stockpile of prefabricated steel was needed off site, ready to feed the on site erection programme. Cleveland failed to build up this stockpile and Brookfield claims that this was because the lack of design information from Mott slowed fabrication down.

As design changes continued to come through during fabrication, Multiplex and Cleveland made the decision to retrofit further changes and carry out on site modification to save time. Brookfield also alleges that Mott had failed to account for changes in stresses induced in the arch as it was raised into position. The arch was assembled on the ground before it was raised into its final position, pivoting on joints at each end.

Brookfield claims that before erection began, Mott should have undertaken an analysis of the completed arch when it reached key stages of its construction to satisfy itself that the erection sequence was feasible without modifications to the permanent works. It claims permanent members had to be increased in size to avoid overstressing during the erection of the arch. This led to an increase in steel weight which had not been catered for in the initial tender process. In addition, Brookfield’s claim document says that the consultant failed to study the possibility of a disproportionate collapse during erection until September 2004, after the arch lift had begun, according to Brookfield.

There was a risk that one restraining cable may be inadvertently disconnected or one set of cables might be pulled in advance of other cables thereby imposing an uneven distribution of stresses on the arch and exacerbating high temporary stresses in some of its members. It added that Mott confirmed that strengthening of the arch’s perimeter truss was required in May 2005 and that this was carried out post-fabrication.

Mott MacDonald has yet to lodge a defence. However a spokesman refuted the claims and said: "Mott MacDonald emphatically denies any liability for Brookfield’s loss and will vigorously defend the claim. "We would point out that Brookfield assumed responsibility for designing and building the stadium and MSC [Mott Stadium Construction] provided structural design consultancy services to Brookfield for the permanent structure. Brookfield was responsible for managing the design and providing information to MSC to allow it to produce its structural design information in a timely manner. Brookfield was also responsible for allocating design tasks to the numerous parties involved in the design process. MSC was not responsible for project management or construction, which was the clear responsibility of Brookfield."

Mott MacDonald was lead designer in MSC. The other partners in the consortium were Connell Wagner and Modus Consulting Engineers, now owned by Sinclair Knight Merz. In the claim document, Mott MacDonald is the only defendant referred to. Brookfield also claims that Mott omitted the self weight of the retractable roof from the fixed roof calculations and supplying the fabricator with incorrect spring stiffness values for use on the computer model it used to design the steelwork.

Problems with the steel erection project eventually led to Cleveland walking off the project on 28 July 2004. It was replaced by Dutch firm Hollandia. Cleveland refused to carry out further off site works from 2 August 2004 as it sought extra money for extra work resulting from the steelwork design delays. Brookfield agreed that Mott MacDonald could not be held responsible for Cleveland’s decision to walking off the job – a move termed an "industrial strike" by Brookfield. But it claims the consultant is ultimately responsible for the consequences of the change of steelwork erector.

It is now for the courts to decide who should be liable for Multiplex’s cost overruns. If past form is anything to go by, we could be in for a lengthy dispute.

Wembley Stadium: Legal proceedings rumble on over who should pay for construction delays

Timeline to court

  • Sept 02 Work starts on the new Wembley stadium

  • Jan 03 Cleveland Bridge’s deadline for full and final structural designs

  • July 04 Cleveland Bridge walks off job due to, Brookfield claims, continuous design changes by Mott MacDonald

  • March 07 The turnstiles at new Wembley stadium open 10 months late

  • Sept 08 £6M awarded to Brookfield from Cleveland

  • Dec 08 Brookfield submitts £253M claim against Mott MacDonald

WHO’S WHO

Main contractor
Multiplex Constructions, which is now trading as Brookfield Construction

Structural design consultant
MSC (Mott Stadium Consortium) – A consortium of Mott MacDonald, Connell Wagner and Modus Consulting Engineers, now owned by Sinclair Knight Merz

Lead designers
Mott MacDonald

Steel subcontractor
Cleveland Bridge

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