Warning to London 2012: Decide now or pay later

November 27, 2008

Olympic Games organisers are being warned to make key decisions now about the long-term use of the 2012 stadium - or face costs that will spiral out of control.

Professor of Engineering Project Management at the University of Leeds, Denise Bower, has found a link between the way decisions are made about the design and building of iconic structures and the likelihood that these are built within the agreed expenditure and timescale. Her study showed that where several parties come together to form a client group there can be clashes between what each member expects from the project.

Professor Bower says: "Unlike the building of simpler public structures such as a school or hospital there are often incompatible expectations for an iconic building that can lead to spiralling costs," says Professor Bower. "For example, a football club will want to create a striking image to raise their profile whereas the local council may want a project that will aid regeneration in the area.

"The challenge for the Olympic delivery team and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is to marry the aspirations of all those involved in this project and complete the job within the estimated timescale and cost. But our research shows that if decisions are not made and stuck to along the way this becomes almost impossible. Given the current economic climate this need for concrete decisions is even greater."

The researchers also discovered that even when firm decisions have been taken there is often a failure for clients and contractors to communicate - a problem that can lead to further escalation of cost. This failure arises partly because the clients involved may have had no previous experience of construction projects.

The study initially compared the processes and costs involved in the development of Arsenal's Emirates stadium and the new Wembley site. With these projects, the Emirates completed on time and within budget, whereas the Wembley project went over-budget and exceeded the expected timescale for completion.

Other sports stadia, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly buildings were also included to gain further insight into how such large-scale projects are managed.

Co-researcher and engineering PhD student, Bernard Aritua, says, "Iconic structures are seen as a legacy, so the approach to building them is unique. In cases where public funding is involved the client often fails to communicate fully the real aims of the project for fear of a public backlash. Consequently they leave themselves open to constant changes to both the concept and the design, with each change potentially leading to an escalation in cost."
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Further information from:
Sally Cooper, Campuspr Ltd, tel 0113 258 9880, email sally@campuspr.co.uk
Simon Jenkins, University of Leeds press office, tel 0113 343 5764, email s.jenkins@leeds.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

Denise Bower is a Professor of Engineering Project Management and the Deputy Head of the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds. Her recent work includes an investigation of multi-project management, the evaluation of procurement strategies, assessment of corporate strategy, the development of organisational partnering guidelines, the evaluation of the success criteria for a number of partnering arrangements and recommendations of contract strategies for overseas projects.

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds comprises five Schools: Civil Engineering; Computing; Electronic and Electrical Engineering; Mechanical Engineering and Process, Materials and Environmental Engineering. All schools in the Faculty have the highest 5 or 5* Research Assessment Exercise ratings, top teaching assessments and strong industrial connections. There are approximately 3,000 students in the Faculty, 80% undergraduates and 20% postgraduates. Two-thirds of our students are from the UK with the remainder representing over 90 different nationalities.

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a total annual income of £422m, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

University of Leeds

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