Multiplex May Hang On To Wembley Keys

It could mean more frustration for English sportsmen and fans, but lawyers are no doubt rubbing their hands over the £350 million (US$658 million) claim Wembley Stadium builder Multiplex has issued against England’s Football Association.

This action is to cover the loss of earnings the Australian construction company says it has suffered because the FA has repeatedly changed its mind about the stadium’s design.

Such litigation is likely to take three years and, according to The Daily Telegraph, Multiplex will refuse to hand over the keys until the courts give a ruling on it.

The FA is becoming desperate to have the new stadium up and running to help service and repay the £433 million it has borrowed to finance the project.

Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) is said to have offered Multiplex £25 million plus a share of the 2007 FA Cup Final revenue to pull its fingers out and finish the job. But talks broke down when the banks refused to front the money unless the Australian builder dropped all its claims.

Multiplex refused, Wembley withheld a £38 million interim payment because of late delivery, and the builder retaliated by launching the £350 million claim for loss of earnings.

The relationship between WNSL and Multiplex has now broken down to such a degree that the FA is said to be asking Lord Carter, chairman of Sport England, to try to find an out-of-court compromise.

The FA’s desperate call to Carter comes at a time when the Sydney-based builder, which has lost money and reputation, seems to have decided that it’s got nothing more to lose and is in the process of hiring some swanky lawyers.

It won a case in June against Cleveland Bridge, although many predicted it would lose, because the Darlington-based steel constructor walked away from the job in August 2004 over design difficulties with the stadium’s arch.

As he gave his ruling, Justice Jackson urged the two sides to sit down and try to resolve the problems themselves.

Although the job looks to be about six months from completion, a drawn-out court battle could mean the first cup final Wembley hosts will be in 2010.

– John Gammon