Soaring cost of rebuilding EastEnders set slammed by MPs
MPs have criticised the BBC's plans to rebuild the set of EastEnders after it shot millions of pounds over budget – partly due to plans to make it appear old.
The set changes are part of a scheme, called E20, which will now cost licence fee payers £27 million more than originally expected.
That project, costing £87 million, is expected to be complete in May 2023, nearly five years later than originally planned.
MPs heard the set, built in 1984, is "no longer fit for purpose" and the rebuild is "crucial to the future success of EastEnders".
A new external set is being built to "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.
The Public Accounts Committee said "the BBC has managed (the) project badly".
It said 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 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.
MPs want the BBC to update it 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.
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."