EastEnders Set Expansion Cost Increase Slammed By MPs

The new look Walford has been a long time in the making  (Photo: 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  (Photo: 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 (Photo: 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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Jo Joyner

Played: Tanya Branning 2006-2010

What. A. Woman.

Jo's character, Tanya, went to hell and back as Max's long-suffering wife, but the upsides were there, and Jo scooped loads of awards and even more fans during her time on the soap.

Jo returned to the Square for the soap's 30th anniversary, but in 2014, she was busy starring in the lead role of the comedy 'Trying Again'.

She also popped up on the 'Loose Women' panel a number of times, before joining the 'Ordinary Lies' cast in 2015.

Martin Kemp

Played: Steve Owen 1998-2002

Remember the time Martin helped plan a wedding as part of a reality TV show? What a glorious day that was.

On a more serious note, in 2016 he began starring as a judge on Gary Barlow's new show 'Let It Shine'.

Robert Kazinsky

Played: Sean Slater (2006–09)

Robert Kazinsky had a good few years out of the limelight after quitting the Square in 2009.

However, in 2012 it was announced he would star in the sixth season of hit US show 'True Blood'. He also landed a key role in the Idris Elba film 'Pacific Rim', and took the lead in 'Warcraft' in 2016.

Nitin Ganatra

Starred as: Masood Ahmed (2007-16)

As of early 2017, Nitin was yet to reveal his plans for life after 'EastEnders'. 

Tamzin Outhwaite

Played: Melanie Owen (1998–2002)

After leaving 'EastEnders', shortly after the departure of her on-screen hubby Martin Kemp, Tamzin Outhwaite went on to star in a number of shows, including 'Red Cap', 'Hustle', 'Final Demand', 'Walk Away' and 'Frances Tuesday'.

In 2012, she replaced Amanda Redman in 'New Tricks'.

Danniella Westbrook

Played: Sam Mitchell (1990–2000, 2009–10, 2016)

Danniella Westbrook was reportedly written out of 'EastEnders' as Sam Mitchell when her cocaine addiction affected her commitment.

She later released an autobiography about her troubles 'The Other Side of Nowhere', in 2006. Things haven't been easy for Daniella in recent years, and in 2014 she admitted to relapsing. In January 2015, Danniella began to get back on her feet. She later relapsed again in late 2016, after a 'CBB' stint and brief return to Walford.

Ricky Norwood

Played: Fatboy (2010-15)

Ricky's first role after his character was killed off was in a radio version of 'Romeo And Juliet', which featured a same-sex couple. 

He also enjoyed a stint in the 'Celebrity Big Brother' house, coming second in 2016's summer series.

Terry Alderton

Played: Terry Spraggan 2013-2014

Tel returned to performing stand-up gigs in 2014. We saw him at Bestival once, his act is... interesting.

Maddy Hill

Played: Nancy Carter (2014-16)

Maddy's first post-Soapland role was in 'Imogen', a reimagining of Shakespeare's 'Cymbeline', that was staged at the Globe theatre.

Michelle Ryan

Played: Zoe Slater (2000–05)

"You ain't my mother!"

Michelle Ryan managed to move from Walford to Hollywood in 2005. She then bagged the role in the US TV show 'Bionic Woman' but sadly, it didn’t get beyond its pilot. In recent years, She made a brief appearance in 'Death In Paradise' in 2014.

John Partridge

Played: Christian Clarke (2008-2012, 2014, 2016)

John turned his attention to the land of reality television after leaving the soap, starring in 'Tumble' and 'Celebrity Big Brother'. 

Sid Owen

Played: Ricky Butcher (1988–2000, 2002–04, 2008–12)

He's been snapped at Cannes Film Festival, photo-bombing Chris Brown and hanging out with Adele since leaving Walford. Yes, Ricky Butcher has gone up in the world.

Sid Owen, who left the soap in 2012, has also taken part in 'Strictly Come Dancing' but was eliminated from the competition in Week 3. At the end of 2012 he announced he was retiring from acting.

Martine McCutcheon

Played: Tiffany Mitchell (1995–98)

Soon after Tiff was killed off, Martine started a solo pop career and her debut single 'Perfect Moment' was an international success. Martine's also been a hit on the West End stage, scooping an Olivier Award for 'My Fair Lady' and she also impressed in the film world, with her role in 'Love, Actually'.

In 2016, she began serving as a guest panellist on 'Loose Women'.

Nigel Harman

Played: Dennis Rickman (2003–05)

Nowadays, there's more chance that you'll find Nigel on stage and he's the proud owner of an Olivier Award, presented for his role in 'Shrek the Musical'.

Sadly, things haven't always gone well and Nigel was part of the cast of the ill-fated 'X Factor' musical 'I Can't Sing'. In 2014, he moved into theatre directing, taking charge of the touring production of 'Shrek'.

Hetti Bywater

Played: Lucy Beale (2012-15)

Hetti was a guest star in the 2015 series of 'Death In Paradise'. 

Leslie Grantham

Played: Dirty Den (1985–89, 2003–05)

Leslie was reunited with his daughter Sharon (Letitia Dean) in 2003, and he hung around until his character was killed off properly in two years later. In 2013 he divorced his wife of 31 years.

The 65-year-old actor was involved in a sordid tabloid newspaper “scandal” in 2004, but it was his wife’s “unreasonable behaviour” that was given in court as grounds for the divorce. Alongside Danniella Westbrook, he starred in 'Mob Handed'.

Anita Dobson

Played: Angie Watts (1985–88)

Best known for playing the emotionally battered, alcoholic landlady, Anita Dobson went on to voicing a character in kids' show 'Annette And Rod' as well as appearing in 'Sadie J', another children's programme, as Nan Bet. In early 2015, it was announced that Anita would take on the role of Queen Elizabeth I in a new BBC drama and later that year, she starred in drama 'London Road'. 

Tanya Franks

Played: Rainie Cross (2007-2011)

After getting Phil Mitchell hooked on crack as character Rainie Cross, Tanya moved on to more drama, playing Richard Burton's wife, Sybil, in the 2012 made-for-television film 'Liz & Dick', alongside Lindsay Lohan and later starring in 'Broadchurch'.

Rainie later returned to the Square as part of the 'Who killed Lucy Beale?' storyline.

Ross Kemp

Played: Grant Mitchell (1990–99, 2005, 2006, 2016)

Ross Kemp went from 'EastEnders' bad boy to chasing bad boys when he left the soap in 2006.

Rebranding himself as an investigative journalist, Kemp has reported on gangs, Afghanistan, pirates, the Middle East and more. In 2012 he released a new novel, 'Moving Target'. He went on to experience what it’s like to be caught up in the middle of Northern Ireland’s most contentious and volatile Twelfth parade for the new series of his Sky1 show 'Extreme World'. 

Despite ruling out a return to the soap, he did pop up again in 2016, while continuing to front various documentaries.

Michelle Collins

Played: Cindy Beale (1988–90, 1992–98)

Michelle Collins really did a number on Ian Beale as scheming Cindy, eventually having him shot by a hitman. Michelle swapped soaps and played barmaid Stella Price in 'Coronation Street'. She later left 'Corrie', and briefly reprised her role as Cindy for a special Children In Need sketch in 2014.

Barbara Windsor

Played: Peggy Mitchell (1994–2013, 2016) 

In mid-2016, Dame Barbara Windsor was back in the Square for one final time, and her character was given a suitably emotional send-off.

Since then, she's been out of the spotlight - though Babs continues to work with JackpotJoy bingo.

Phil Daniels

Played: Kevin Wicks (2006–08)

Phil's character Kevin Wicks met a tragic end when he died in a car crash. In 2009, he starred in a handful of episodes of 'New Tricks' before landing a role in TV mini-series, 'Moonfleet' in 2013.

Kara Tointon

Played: Dawn Swan (2005–09)

Kara Tointon went on to win the 2010 edition of' Strictly Come Dancing' with her partner-turned-boyfriend Artem Chigvintsev, though the couple have since split. She then starred in 'Mr Selfridge' alongside her sister Hannah and also played the lead role in a live ITV production of 'The Sound Of Music' before landing a role in the channel's much-hyped 2017 drama 'The Halycon'. 

Kacey Ainsworth

Played: Little Mo (2000–06)

After 6 years as the loveable and the long-suffering Little Mo, Kacey went on to play Auntie Lou in 'Carrie's War' in London's West End and in 2013, she stared in Ben Elton's the comedy series 'The Wright Way'.

Kacey still pops up on TV every now and then, and gave an emotional star turn in 'Call The Midwife'.

Michael Greco

Played: Beppe di Marco 1998-2002

Oh Beppe, long gone but never forgotten.

Beppe isn't actually dead so Michael could technically return to the soap. Alas, he's too busy making a living as a professional poker player. Seriously.

Cheryl Fergison

Played: Heather Trott 2006-2012

After being axed from the show (death by photoframe) Cheryl went on to make guest appearances on several day-time and panel shows.

In 2012 she entered the 'Celebrity Big Brother' house, but it wasn't long before she was booted out. In 2016, she (sort of) returned to the show, when her voice was on a tape played by Dot Branning.

Meryl Fernandes

Played: Afia Masood 2009-2012

'EastEnders' was Meryl's first professional acting role... and sadly she hasn't been up to too much since. In 2013, she popped up in 'Doctors' but has since been concentrating on a shop she owns in East London.

Sam Strike

Played: Johnny Carter (2013-14)

After a brief stop off in 'Slient Witness', Sam landed his first film role in 2017 release 'Leatherface'. 

Jasmyn Banks

Played: Alice Branning 2012-2013

Jasmyn swapped her TV role for a spot on the stage in 2013, and moved on to become part of the touring cast of 'One Man, Two Guv'nors'. She also enjoyed a five year stint in 'Doctors', before appearing in an episode of 'Call The Midwife'. 

Shaun Williamson

Played: Barry Evans 1994-2004

Shaun made a number of guest appearances on TV before securing the role of, umm, himself, in 'Extras' just a year after Janine pushed Bazza off the cliff.

He's yet another former 'EastEnders' star known for treading the boards, starring in everything from pantomimes to sketches at the Royal Albert Hall.

Nicholas Bailey

Played: Anthony Trueman 2000-2005, 2014

Nick joined the cast of the popular radio soap 'The Archers' in 2012. 

Zoe Lucker

Played: Vanessa Gold 2010-2011

Screen veteran Zoe hasn't had a shortage of parts, and her credits since 'EastEnders' include 'Waterloo Road'.

Preeya Kalidas

Played: Amira Masood 2009-2012

Preeya returned her attentions to her budding career as a singer after leaving the soap, though she didn't exactly set the charts alight, with her single 'Love Between Us' peaking at number 137.

Larry Lamb

Played: Archie Mitchell 2008-2009

Larry hasn't been short of work during his decades in showbusiness, and his run has continued long after his character's untimely death. He's not afraid to try something new either, and in 2011, he published a new autobiography, before presenting his own LBC radio show two years later. In 2016, he appeared on 'I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!'.

Tiana Benjamin

Played: Chelsea Fox 2006-2010

Tiana starred in the British film 'Fast Girls' a year after making her 'EastEnders' exit, but she hasn't been in the spotlight much since, save for a handful of TV appearances.

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