The Construction News have exclusively revealed allegations that site chaos, confusion and ill-discipline lie behind the delays to Tottenham Hotspur’s £850m stadium.
“Stop what you’re doing!” cries a supervisor, halting the work of a gang of electricians on Tottenham Hotspur’s new £850m stadium.
The sudden stop is due to the appearance of workers from an air-conditioning subcontractor, who are carrying a large piece of metallic piping. These AC workers have turned up to finish their installation. The problem is, the electricians were told the AC work had already been completed.
As a result, all the work the electricians had done has to be torn out. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that completed electrics, carried out on the exact same spot, had already been completely ripped out two weeks earlier for the same reason.
Electricians had worked all weekend to complete their work on this first occasion, only to discover on the Monday that the air-conditioning had not been installed. A fortnight later they think the AC has finally been finished; again they have to rip it out.
This is just one alleged instance of poor co-ordination and communication that sources working on the project have shared with Construction News (CN) to help explain the stadium’s delay, announced last month.
Of all the stories CN has heard from project insiders, this one captures many of the principal problems alleged on the job.
Sources claim that an unclear management structure, chaotic organisation and poor communication led to mistakes – often by electrical subcontractors. They describe a huge site where small problems escalated rapidly. And compounding these programme setbacks were personnel issues, with reports of physical altercations and drug-taking on site.
Mace a ‘toothless lion’
Early into the project, Spurs took the decision to cut deals individually with subcontractors and appoint Mace as a construction manager to oversee the job.
By choosing to have a direct commercial relationship with individual companies rather than appointing an overall contractor, the club limited Mace’s liabilities on the scheme.
However, insiders have told CN this approach also limited Mace’s influence.
Multiple sources claim this arrangement led to subcontractors focusing only on completing their own tasks, without considering the wider implications for other trades or progress of the overall project. The lack of co-ordination or logistical planning frequently led to confusion on site and costly mistakes that delayed work significantly, the insiders claim.
Mace’s visibility on the site prior to the delay being announced was also limited, according to the sources. However, CN understands that Mace has maintained its staff numbers at similar levels thoughout the project, but that some of its personnel have increased their visibility on site since the delay was revealed.
The construction manager’s ability to control the actions of subcontractors is limited because it is only able to “advise” rather than instruct the trades on site. The lack of a commercial relationship changed the power dynamic between the construction manager and those on site, CN’s sources allege.
“They are like a toothless lion, they have got no claws and no teeth,” a source with in-depth knowledge of the management structure tells CN. “This situation is quite strange. [Mace] can only say, ‘This area is ready, could you please deploy someone and sort it out?’”
Further confusion has been caused by the presence of Tottenham Hotspur’s own project managers on the scheme. “I don’t really know who the construction managers really are – Mace? Tottenham?” the same insider says.
Poor communication is a common claim in almost every problem described by CN’s onsite sources.
The lack of dialogue between trades on the scheme is said to have resulted in confusion between trades on site, compounded by the scale of the project and the number of subcontractors. “What should take a week normally takes a month, because of the sheer scale of it, but also because the communication is horrendous,” a source on the site tells CN.
As well as electrical wiring being ripped out on two occasions because of a lack of communication, CN has heard other alleged instances where the work of one subcontractor hindered that of another.
One further example was when a team of electricians is said to have tried to connect two sections of wiring, only to find that access had been blocked by the installation of a ceiling. Another alleged case saw an electrical subcontractor team arrive to work on executive boxes, which were understood by other subcontractors to have been completed.
“There was just no communication,” a source tells CN. “Everyone was rushing to finish their jobs; it didn’t matter whether the other ones did or not.”
The electrical work on the project has received more scrutiny than any other part of the build.
Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds has said “faulty wiring” was the cause of the stadium’s delay, and there has been repeated tabloid media coverage of the rates being paid to electricians on the site.
A number of sources on the project claim that electricians have been working in chaotic conditions, which only began to improve in the wake of the project’s official delay.
CN has heard how staff employed on the stadium felt unable to work effectively because they were not provided with the right tools for the job.
One worker tells CN how the platform they were working on to install ceiling wiring was not high enough to reach the spot they needed to. This meant they were constantly leaning over the edge, which they described as “difficult”.
They also claim they were unable to power their tools properly because the transformer provided only lasted for four hours, but they were working for 12. When they tried to charge the unit, they realised they had not been given the wires to do so.
The inability to get the materials on time and to order was another problem for gangs of electricians on the project. “Things would go wrong because people didn’t have materials,” one electrical source alleges.
The insider reports that vital materials ordered days in advance would not be delivered to the store, meaning advance planning was often scuppered and teams had to work ad-hoc based on whatever supplies were available.
“They should have known exactly what they needed for next week and had it there ready for then, but somehow it wasn’t done,” they claim. “We’d have to reorganise everything based on the information we were given that morning from the store. I’ve never in my life worked like that.”
Work was also delayed by the night-shift team taking equipment and supplies and leaving it in other parts of the site, insiders report. This meant that some days began with electrical subcontractors roaming the site looking for the equipment they had been using the day before.
Recent reports are that the stadium will not be ready for completion until “early 2019”. This increases the likelihood that Tottenham will be forced to play the entire season at Wembley.
As it was well known prior to season ticket renewals that the stadium will not be completed in time, you have to wonder if the Spurs are going to be investigated by the Advertising Standard Authority for false advertisement.
Especially their tube advert which claimed the new stadium would be the “only place in London to watch the Champions League”. Clearly now a false claim.