"It is very frustrating - we have had a very good year and we have won eight major international prizes. More than 700,000 visitors have been round. We have to assess the situation and parliament has to be back in business as soon as possible." - GEORGE REID, PRESIDING OFFICER
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HOLYROOD'S flagship debating chamber was closed indefinitely yesterday after part of the chamber roof came away - causing one of the most serious and embarrassing setbacks in the short history of Scotland's most controversial building.
MSPs were last night left in confusion, unaware as to when they would be able to return to the Scottish Parliament chamber, which has been championed as the centrepiece of the devolution settlement.
A heavy wooden roof beam came loose in the main debating chamber at about 11:15am yesterday, endangering the lives of the MSPs below.
The 12ft-long piece of oak broke free from its steel mooring at one end and swung over the heads of MSPs. It stopped inches from a glass screen and remained hanging about 20ft above the chamber.
Structural engineers, building contractors and health and safety officials were called in as the MSPs were evacuated.
George Reid, the Presiding Officer, was waiting for a report late last night which he hoped would give him the go-ahead to re-open the parliamentary chamber next week.
But several experts warned that every one of the 60 beams in the chamber roof might have to be checked thoroughly and this could take weeks, or even months, to sort out.
Any remedial work is bound to cost time and money, but Bovis Lend Lease, the construction management company, is expected to pick up the bill and compensate the parliament - if necessary passing it down the line to contractors who fitted the broken beam.
This incident is the latest embarrassment for a building which, by the time it opened in autumn 2004, was, three years late and cost 431 million, ten times the original price tag.
Bovis Lend Lease had to deal with thousands of "snagging" problems when the building was opened 18 months ago and this is not the first problem to plague the complicated chamber design.
Some of the windows around the chamber cracked soon after the building opened and had to be replaced, and a third of the spotlight bulbs blew in the first year, many more than expected.
The beams, set in clusters of four and secured top and bottom by stainless steel brackets, were lauded when they were installed in 2002, in a contract said at the time to be worth 1.3 million.
Mr Reid said: "The matter is in the hands of the Health and Safety Executive.
"It is very frustrating - we have had a very good year and we have won eight major international prizes. More than 700,000 visitors have been round. We have to assess the situation and parliament has to be back in business as soon as possible.
"Only then will we look at issues of liability."
Asked when he thought the parliament would be back in the chamber, Mr Reid replied: "I am not a structural engineer. I hope we could be back for Wednesday but that will depend on the independent report."
But David Black, an architectural writer and a consistent critic of the building, said the problems could run much deeper for the parliamentary authorities. "It's a bit like a plane crash," he said. "They will have to check every piece.
Fergus Ewing, an SNP MSP, and a critic of the building, said: "If every beam has to be analysed, I will be surprised if we are back by the end of the year."