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Wembley Stadium: Pitched battle

Wembley stadium designer Mott MacDonald has filed a robust defence of the £253M claim lodged against it by Multiplex. In particular it denies the contractors claims to have been denied access to vital design information.

Wembley Stadium opened in March 2007, 10 months late. Since then, the row over delays and cost overruns has kept some of the nation’s finest construction lawyers in pretty much constant employment.

Some estimates say that contractor Multiplex, now trading as Brookfield, had to absorb cost overruns of as much as £300M − money Multiplex is determined to claw back from other members of the Wembley construction team.

Steelwork at the centre of problems

At the heart of the matter is the complex steelwork which forms the stadium’s retractable roof and signature arch. It was this which appears to have delayed the project and increased costs.

Multiplex had two early skirmishes with its supply chain about this work. It reached an out of court settlement with concrete subcontractor PC Harrington, and won something of a pyrrhic victory against its specialist steelwork subcontractor Cleveland Bridge, winning a paltry £6M plus costs.

Now it is the turn of Mott MacDonald, a member of the Mott Consortium design team which produced initial designs for client Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) before continuing its work with Multiplex when the contractor won the construction contract in September 2001.

Mott Consortium’s other members were Connell Wagner and Modus Consulting Engineers.

The dispute between Multiplex and Mott MacDonald will be heard on 30 and 31 July at the Technology & Construction Court in London.

The dispute

  • Multiplex Claims it was not given access to vital design information and that this led to increased steelwork costs
  • Mott MacDonald “Multiplex was aware of the state of design, having managed the design process and having been intimately involved in the design work”
  • Cleveland Bridge “It is extraordinary how the claims by Mott MacDonald appear to be rewriting history”


Claims and allegations

Multiplex lodged a claim for a massive £253M against Mott MacDonald in December last year (NCE 22 January 2009), a claim the consultant intends to fight.

Of the £253M Multiplex is claiming from Mott MacDonald £14M is on the basis that it was not given access to enough information to enable it to price its bid for the stadium accurately.

It is also claiming £132M from Mott MacDonald for the increased cost of the steelwork, delays to which led to another £41M in knock on costs, which Multiplex to is also trying to recover.

Central to Multiplex’s claim is its allegation that the consultant failed to provide enough design information.

In its defence, lodged last week at the Technology & Construction court, the consultant says that Multiplex had extensive access to design information. It says that the contractor even chaired design meetings after winning the contract in September 2001.

Mott MacDonald’s defence also points out that Multiplex was so eager to win the contract that it submitted a bid that was £70M lower than a joint bid it put in with Bovis, just two days after that bid had been rejected.

Unable to agree

WNSL appointed the BMX, a joint venture between Bovis and Multiplex, as preferred contractor in March 2000, giving it 24 weeks to develop its proposals and costings.

However BMX and Wembley were unable to agree on a contract sum. In August 2000, BMX submitted a £396M bid, which excluded third party and uncontrollable risk factors. WNSL rejected this and dismissed BMX as preferred contractor. Two days later, WNSL accepted a £326M guaranteed maximum price design and construct bid from Multiplex, bidding on its own.

Multiplex claims it was not given enough information about the status of designs when it submitted its revised bid.

Who’s who

  • Client Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL)
  • Main contractor Multiplex Constructions
  • Structural design consultant 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


But the consultant argues that Multiplex had been involved in the project since the bid process opened in July 1999. It had already approached WNSL in May 1999 and had been given access to information and documents not given to other contractors involved in the tender process (see News). It had also been given 24 weeks in which to develop its construction proposals when it was part of the BMX consortium.

The defence document also claims that Multiplex either participated in or had opportunity to participate in, 265 meetings with the design team between February 2000 and May 2001 and was aware of the status of design.

“Multiplex was aware of the state of design, having managed the design process and having intimately involved itself in the design work. During the period before novation, Mott MacDonald warned Multiplex extensively about the key issues affecting the structural design and this was reiterated in September 2002,” continues the defence paper.

A revised scheme

In December 2001 WNSL and Multiplex agreed a revised scheme. This included removing a hotel from the project, the expansion of hospitality suites and significant changes to the north side of the stadium bowl. This took the Mott Consortium seven to eight months to redesign, according to the defence document.

Around this time Multiplex’s preferred steelwork subcontractor, Hare Consortium, quit the project.

As preferred steelwork subcontractor for the BMX team, and then as Multiplex’s preferred steel subcontractor, the Hare consortium, comprising William Hare, Watson Steel and Westbury Tubular Structures, had worked on the project since June 2000. It had helped progress the construction method, developing the erection sequence and temporary works designs for the roof and arch.

“From the limited information available to date, Cleveland Bridge did not carry out any analysis of Mott’s design prior to agreeing a price”

Mott MacDonald

According to Mott MacDonald, Multiplex rejected the price submitted by the Hare consortium in December 2001 and accepted a lower £60M offer from Cleveland Bridge, even though it had rejected a bid from the firm at an earlier stage on the grounds that it lacked professional experience.

The bid was based on drawings which predated the 2001 scheme revision.

Mott MacDonald’s defence document claims that Cleveland Bridge’s costings failed to reflect a thorough examination of its structural design.

“From the limited information available to date to Mott, CBUK [Cleveland Bridge] did not carry out any analysis of Mott’s design prior to agreeing a price,” it says.

“The choice of the steelwork contractor was crucial to the project and the early and continued input from a steelwork subcontractor could have contributed greatly to the eventual success of the project,” reads the defence document.

Failure to understand

It goes on to criticise Cleveland Bridge, blaming it for the most of the delays: “CBUK’s failure to understand the complexity of the project, its failure to understand the impact of its erection method on the connection design, and its delayed development of a detailed erection method caused delay to CBUK and to the project,” says the defence document.

Mott MacDonald claims that CBUK conceded that it lacked the resources to carry out the connection design for the arch so in December 2002, Multiplex instructed Mott MacDonald to carry out finite element analysis of the arch design for CBUK. This analysis could not be finished until CBUK had submitted its final erection analysis. This did not happen until March 2003.

“Multiplex seeks to make Mott liable for the consequences of CBUK’s incompetence, its failure to resource and progress its works and ultimately, its repudiation of contract.”

“The claims appear to be a smokescreen to disorientate the court and pass blame onto an innocent party”

Cleveland Bridge spokesman

CBUK walked off site in August 2004 and is currently appealing against some of the rulings made at the conclusion of its own court battle with Multiplex.

It was outraged by some of Mott MacDonald’s claims.

“Based on what we have heard today, it is extraordinary how the claims by Mott MacDonald appear to be re-writing history,” said a Cleveland Bridge spokesman.

“Certainly its pleadings bear no relation to reality. The quality, timetable and delivery of work by Cleveland Bridge on the Wembley site has never been an issue and the claims appear to be a smokescreen designed to disorientate the court and pass blame on to an innocent party who will not be in the courtroom to defend itself.”

Multiplex has also claimed that Mott MacDonald omitted the weight of the retractable roof from its fixed roof calculations and supplied the fabricator with incorrect spring stiffness values for use on the computer model it used to design the steelwork.

Mott MacDonald has countered by saying Multiplex failed to appoint a subcontractor for the retractable roof in sufficient time to enable full co-ordination of the work. The retractable roof subcontractor was not appointed until November 2004.


Wembley Stadium

Source: Action Images

Wembley Stadium

  • May 1998 Mott Consortium starts design work on Wembley stadium
  • May 1999 Multiplex becomes involved in project
  • Aug 2000 Multiplex in joint venture with Bovis submits £396M project bid which is rejected by WNSL
  • Sept 2000 Multiplex submits £326.5M bid
  • May 2001 to Jan 2002 Project is revised
  • Sept 2001 Work starts on the new Wembley stadium. Mott MacDonald novated to Multiplex
  • End 2001 Hare Consortium quits as specialist steelwork subontractor
  • Feb 2002 Cleveland Bridge bids for steelwork contract
  • Jan 2003 Cleveland Bridge’s deadline for full and final structural designs
  • July 2004 Cleveland Bridge walks off job
  • March 2007 New Wembley stadium opens 10 months late
  • Sept 2008 Brookfield wins £6M from Cleveland in court ruling
  • Dec 2008 Brookfield submits £253M claim against Mott MacDonald

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