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Pictures: Mary Evans, Geraint Lewis The Channel tunnel THE CHANNEL tunnel was first proposed in the early 19th century.

It is more or less complete, though no one seems to know exactly when the first scheduled passenger trains will run through it from London to Paris and Brussels.

It is not only big projects that can take a very long time to build.

When Alan Sugar, chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, took over the football club in the Eighties, he simply could not understand why the new east stand had taken so long to build with a budget rising from pounds 4m to pounds 11m. Delays in major public projects, however, are inevitable as long as politicians adopt the kind of stop- go financial policies that so damaged Britain's nationalised railway network, for example, making long-term investment all but impossible.

The British Library THE pounds 445m British Library should have opened last year. The reason it has taken so long to build - the foundation stone was laid in 1982 - has relatively little to do with the competence, or otherwise, of architect and contractors.

The project has been toyed with by successive governments.

After all, there is plenty of evidence to show that big, complicated buildings can be completed at a hell of a lick.Albert Speer completed Hitler's vainglorious Reich Chancellory down to the last veneered and Versailles-like detail in just 10 months, using labour drawn from all over Germany.More complex buildings than these have been built efficiently and comparatively quickly; one need mention only the adventurous Lloyd's Building in the City of London (1981-86) designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership, and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (1981-86) by Foster Associates, to see how the most sophisticated modern designs can be built within a few highly engineered and action-packed years.The pounds 45m building, on which work is about to begin after a 25-year delay, is completely different from the original design unveiled in 1969 and soon rejected by the City Corporation.Lord Palumbo had asked Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Bauhaus architect then living in Chicago, to design him a bronze and glass office tower to stand on a plaza, and he fought rejection of the design doggedly through two public inquiries, prompting one of the great architectural debates of this century.

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