Work on the overhaul of the Scottish National Gallery at The Mound in Edinburgh is now not expected until the end of 2022 – five and a half years later than originally envisaged.
The discovery of “unexpected defects” in a previous extension to the 19th century landmark, a lengthy shutdown of the construction site due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to enforce social distancing restrictions on site since work resumed have all been blamed for the new delay, which has been announced just over two years after work got underway.
Extra work to tackle asbestos, “damp penetration” and a faulty drainage system has had to be ordered to ensure The Mound building is “fully protected and safeguarded”.
However the National Galleries of Scotland said it was unable to put a new cost on the project – two years after the budget ballooned from £16.8 million to £22 million despite a planned extension for the building being shelved on the grounds of cost.
A spokesman said: “The budget was £22 million. On extra costs, it would be premature to release estimates until the full impact of the pandemic is known and all the work is finalised.”
The project was thrown into fresh turmoil earlier this year after the “unexpected defects” were discovered in a 1970s extension to the historic building, where new galleries boasting views across East Princes Street Gardens are being created.
However the overhaul of the gallery – the busiest in the UK outside of London – has been dogged by problems since a £15.3m price tag and a completion date of “the summer of 2018 was announced for the project in 2015.
Backed by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project’s design was significantly scaled back due to the soaring cost of initial plans to extend the gallery building out into the gardens by around five metres. By the time work finally got underway in October 2018, its completion date was “early 2021”.
The project was hit by further problems last year, after work on a new main entrance to the gallery and a major re-landscaping project in the gardens fell significantly behind schedule. Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries, said: “Working underground on a World Heritage Site that comprises an iconic 19th century building with modern additions from the 1970s located above one of Edinburgh’s busiest train tunnels is, of course, challenging.
“The pandemic has added a further layer of complexity, with the closure of the site during lockdown and now the introduction of social distancing measures. Any associated additional costs are being worked through diligently.
"While we recognise this delay may be disappointing, we also want to stress that the wait will be worth it. We will deliver a world-class facility for showing Scotland’s distinctive artistic heritage in a whole new light, and at a time when we all hope the pandemic will be receding.
“We intend for our new galleries to be a focal point for cultural renewal, a place to discover the joy and wonder that art can bring to us all.”