EastEnders Set Expansion Cost Increase Slammed By MPs

It's costing licence fee payers £27 million more than expected.
The new look Walford has been a long time in the making
The new look Walford has been a long time in the making
PA Entertainment

MPs have criticised the BBC’s EastEnders set expansion, which is millions of pounds over budget with four years left to go until it’s finished.

The set changes are part of a scheme, called E20, that is costing licence fee payers £87 million – which is £27m more than originally expected.

It’s expected to complete in May 2023, nearly five years later than originally planned.

Addressing this news, the Public Accounts Committee has said “the BBC has managed (the) project badly”, adding that it was “disappointed by the BBC’s complacency in managing” the project, “particularly in its early stages”.

Costs partly increased because of inflation within the construction industry, it said.

But the BBC “also underestimated the scale and complexity of the project, including how it would age the new sets so that they either exactly replicate what viewers are used to, or look realistic where there are new locations”.

The iconic Queen Vic
The iconic Queen Vic
PA Entertainment

The broadcaster originally planned to age the new sets while they were being constructed but that will now be done separately after construction is complete.

Ageing the sets includes making the buildings look like they are from the Victorian era.

The BBC has now scheduled more time to age the set and £3.5 million of the overall cost increases for the project related to ageing the new sets and additional resources to manage the Front Lot (the current Walford).

The set of EastEnders was meant to be used for just two years when it was built back in 1984 and is no longer seen as fit for purpose.

The new external set will “better reflect modern, east end London” and extend Walford as viewers know it, while landmarks such as Albert Square and the Queen Vic are also being rebuilt.

MPs want the BBC to update them annually on its progress and how it has “learned lessons from previous project failings” having “gone off track again” after 2016.

The E20 project also includes core infrastructure at BBC Elstree Centre.

Albert Square
Albert Square
PA Ready News UK

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “The BBC made fundamental mistakes in planning and delivering E20, at significant extra cost to licence fee payers.

“The apparent complacency with which the BBC approached the project is entirely at odds with EastEnders’s strategic importance to the corporation.

“It was a serious error at the outset not to consider exactly what skills would be needed to see E20 through...

“The revised completion date for E20 is still more than four years away and, as work continues, the BBC must demonstrate it now has a firm grip on the project’s costs and progress.”

A BBC spokeswoman said: “We welcome the Public Accounts Committee’s recognition of the importance of the E20 project to secure the long-term future of EastEnders, a flagship programme for the BBC, and retain audiences in a changing landscape.

“As the report says, the project will deliver many benefits, including an extended set to better reflect modern east end London and suitability to film in HD for the first time.

“It has already delivered many vital improvements at BBC Elstree Centre, which help other programmes.

“However, we strongly reject the notion that there has been any complacency in managing this project.

“Like any building work of this scale, there have been challenges along the way including construction market issues beyond our control and working on a brownfield site.

“We have made improvements to the project and continue to keep it under close scrutiny.”

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