According to J Parrish, the director of sport at Arup, creating a large stadium is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.
First, you have to decide what the stadium is to be used for. Then you have to look at its technical complexity and the extent of its banqueting and conference space. Once that is settled, you can pore over the ways of putting together the stand configuration and calculating sightlines. In the fullness of time, you can consider the marble finishes, the number of toilets and, once that’s done, you can assess whether the business plan for the venue is workable.
Up against these criteria, Sir Robert McAlpine’s estimate of £600m to deliver the Olympic stadium and its surrounding infrastructure doesn’t sound like such a bad deal, does it? After all, the money buys you a team with a proven track record and, crucially, it’s a team that knows the culture of construction inside out – recall the way the Sir Robert McAlpine team dealt with the fiendish complexity of putting the Emirates deal together without generating a single embarrassing headline. If you need a reminder about what can go wrong, look at Multiplex, which is presently launching Wembley War II with consultant Mott MacDonald in the High Court.
As most major contractors shunned the Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA)
design-and-build tender, the Olympic body may have been right to leap at Team McAlpine’s offer. Cynics suggest, however, that the lack of competition has led to inflated costs. They maintain that once rival consortiums, such as the one led by Foster and Partners, were disqualified, the ODA should have gone back to the market, if not the drawing board, and changed its procurement route. But then, the Olympic countdown clock is ticking pretty loudly now. As it is, this issue is sure to form part of the debate about Olympic tender prices and value for money.
In the coming weeks the ODA is to release its latest final construction budget, as well as its final designs for the stadium – at which point a lengthy value engineering process will be well under way. By then it is likely we will have other vital pieces of the jigsaw in our hands, such as whether a football club will take over after the Games, and who has come out on top in the debate over the complexity of the design. Once these decisions have been made public, we will be able to ask the ODA the critical question about its stadium plans: could it have got a better quote? Or, at least, something to compare it with.
Tom Broughton, executive editor