When old men in their 90s have heard of the debacle, then things have gone really wrong. Problem is, people will think it’s the builders’ fault because that’s what people do, writes Dave Rogers

Until a few weeks ago, the Co-op Live was a venue that most people had never heard of.

Now everyone knows about it – from grannies into Take That and the kids into the US rapper those of us over 25 have never heard of – and for all the wrong reasons.

Even my dad has heard of it. How come, dad? “Hasn’t some of the air conditioning fallen off?” He’s 92 in July.

He will never visit it in his life but he has heard that it has gone wrong and is late. And that is all the Co-op Live needs to know. A bloke who should never have heard of the venue now does.

Make no mistake, for those with long enough memories, this is all very reminiscent of the delays which plagued the reopening of Wembley stadium nearly two decades ago.

There will be some today who won’t even realise that Wembley was late when it reopened in May 2007 – 17 years ago. And, in the long run, the memories of the past few days will fade for Co-op Live. Still, for older heads, Wembley remains the benchmark for construction debacles hitting the national press.

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Dave Rogers is Building’s deputy editor

More so than, say, the Tottenham Hotspur stadium because that job really only affected one group in particular: Spurs fans. And, with respect, if it’s not affecting my club – as the thinking of most fans goes – then who cares?

Why this is bad for construction is that lots of people will blame the builder – in this case Bam – because, well, they are the builder

Co-op Live has managed to unite a disparate group of people from all walks of life – fans of 21-year-old Oliva Rodrigo through to those of 80-year-old Barry Manilow – into a collective outcry about why the concerts they wanted to see have not gone ahead – or might not yet go ahead.

Why this is bad for construction is that lots of people will blame the builder – in this case Bam – because, well, they are the builder. They are the most obvious culprit.

It’s unfair, but that’s the way it works. “It’s an awful shop window for the building industry when it’s on national TV daily,” one client said.

The problem is Joe Public doesn’t know the intricacies of how a project team works. But, given last Friday Building reported that there were 800 people still on that job two days after it was supposed to open, questions have to be asked of the wider project team. Namely, what have they been doing?

That number of people do not suddenly magic themselves out of thin air on the Thursday, the morning after it was supposed to open the night before, and the client suddenly thinks: “Crikey, this is miles late, let’s flood the job with bodies.”

What on earth was the client team telling the client? Was the client completely blind and simply not aware of the problems? All of this cannot be a massive surprise to the client or its advisers.

Over the weekend, the BBC reported that people working at the venue in February were saying the job was running 35 weeks – that’s nearly nine months – late. Was anyone listening?

>> See also: I saw the Co-op Live site with my own eyes three months ago. These delays do not come as a surprise

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Source: Shutterstock

The Co-op Live has missed several opening dates to become the most high-profile late project in the UK right now

The unfolding debacle at Co-op Live also goes to the heart of how the relationship between a client, its advisors and its builder works in construction. Most will be expecting Bam to be thrown under the bus on this one – and for this simple reason: that is how it has largely worked. “Advisers advise, builders get blamed,” is how one contractor put it last week.

No one is blaming Bam, but fingers will point its way. That is inevitable. As ever, the truth, or a version of it, will be somewhere in between.

But what is indisputable is that this job is late and has now become a PR disaster for the venue, the Co-op and a blow to construction.

It’s difficult for the industry to get away from the narrative that building schemes will always go over budget and end up late. From the guy building an extension at your home to Co-op Live… it’s construction, innit?

This is death by a thousand cuts. Much of Co-op Live’s agony of the past couple of weeks has been needlessly self-inflicted

As soon as the people at Co-op Live knew it was running late, they (the client and its advisors) should have hit pause, suffered the brickbats but, crucially, they would have escaped the public eye and taken some of the sting out of the situation.

They could even have tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat and announced a surprise opening, a few days earlier than any revised timetable had envisaged. “We know we missed our original deadline but, look, we’ve managed to open a week earlier than we said we would.” An easy win, surely, in the circumstances?

By not taking the hit in one fell swoop, this is death by a thousand cuts. Much of Co-op Live’s agony of the past couple of weeks has been needlessly self-inflicted.

It’s probably not unreasonable to suspect that an awful lot of fingers are being crossed ahead of the new opening deadline, 14 May, six days away, with a concert by local band Elbow due to take place that evening.

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Source: Shutterstock

The venue has trumpeted its sustainability credentials but these have been overtaken by its  problems getting open

Here’s another point that is worth considering: if this is fixed price and not construction management, then someone is facing a lot of pain. Bam has recently appointed a new boss of its building arm, Kim Sides.

Announcing her arrival earlier this spring, her boss John Wilkinson mentioned her leadership skills and added this: “She also brings a commercial and contractual edge, a deep understanding of risk and is someone who delivers.” Sides is also a trained lawyer. That could be handy.

Dave Rogers is deputy editor at Building