A Royal Mail project to build an advanced automated international mail sorting office near Heathrow is over budget and behind schedule because of a series of technical problems.
The new centre is due to handle all international mail into and out of the UK and replace nine separate sorting centres. However, the core technology from supplier Siemens Dematic has consistently failed performance tests.
Operations at the centre were scheduled to begin in January 2002. The Royal Mail now hopes it will start accepting mail on a “phased” basis in October and go fully live in late 2004.
The original budget of £150m for the centre and a further £156m for staff relocation and redundancies and for changes to the Royal Mail’s operations network has now risen to £367m.
A spokeswoman for Royal Mail denied the Siemens Dematic technology was flawed but admitted there had been “refinements” to the technology and further refinements were being undertaken.
“There have been problems with the technology in acceptance testing but that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t working,” she said, adding that Royal Mail had “absolute” faith in the Siemens technology.
However, it was “not up to the standards we need to meet customer expectations”, she said.
The Royal Mail attributed delays to the complexity of the project. “This is the most technically advanced mail centre in the world - or at least it will be when it’s finished,” the spokeswoman said. “There have been delays. It’s not about a quick fix - this is about investing in the future.”A spokesman for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents Royal Mail staff said, “We always warned them that it would be difficult to achieve, but they were completely confident."