08:08 Wednesday 8th April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: Our top story here in Cambridgeshire this morning involves the busway between Histon and Orchard Park. It’s going to be closed this weekend for repairs after busway operators spoke to the Council. Next weekend the section from Addenbrookes’s Hospital to Trumpington will be shut for maintenance. It comes of course six months after a technical report found £31 million worth of defects that would lead to a deterioration in ride quality. At the time the County Council voted to hold the contractor Bam Nuttall responsible. Bob Menzies joins me now, the Service Director for Strategy and Development at Cambridgeshire County Council, and known as Mister guided bus I expect to many people. Bob, what exactly is this work going to fix?
BOB MENZIES: It’s going to fix a number of things. We’ve been monitoring the busway very closely. As a number of people commented there, the ride quality has deteriorated since it opened, and the joints are moving. And that caused a number of different things. And so we will be fixing where the beams have dropped. Your reporter there was talking about an inch drop. There’s actually a rubber pad should be sitting under the beam there, and we find they move out over a period of time. So we monitor that, and when they do move out we go back in and fix them. We’ve fixed a number already. We’ve fixed about twenty already, generally doing it overnight so it doesn’t disrupt the passengers. But what we’ve got through Histon, we’ve got a number of them there. We’ve got some other problems as well. Your reporter talks there about what we call spalling, where the end of the concrete .. because the beams then knock together, it knocks the end of the concrete off. It’s not a structural problem. It’s more of a .. it is a ride quality issue. If it gets too far into the concrete then it will start affecting where the guide wheels run. So we’re fixing that as well, and that takes a little longer. So we’ve taken the decision that actually on the section through Histon we’ll close that for a whole weekend. And then we can work from Saturday morning through to Sunday evening and get it all done and get it back open again. We can divert the buses round, but we do need to shut the maintenance track as well. So if there’s one message I can give people it’s don’t try and cycle down the maintenance track when it’s closed, because there will be machines there. There’ll be men working there. It won’t be safe. And when we’ve done this in the past, we have actually closed this before, people have tried to get through. It’s not safe to do it and it’s not wise to do it.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So you’ve already seen quite a lot of problems, even before carrying out these repairs this weekend. Did you expect to have to do this kind of work, less than four years into the life of the busway?
BOB MENZIES: No we didn’t. The contract with Bam Nuttall was a deign and build contract. They were to design it to a specification. The specification said the beams won’t move relative to each other by more than a certain amount. So there wouldn’t be these joints opening up and closing, and irregularities that cause the rough running. So that’s why we commissioned the report from Capita, which we published last year, last autumn. And we took a decision therefore we would pursue Bam Nuttall for the cost of correcting these defects. Our view is that it all needs to be fixed. At the moment we’re going and fixing it when problems arise. We’re monitoring it. We ask the bus drivers to keep an eye on things as well. If they notice anything they report it to us, and we step in when we need to, when things get beyond a certain point. But what we believe should happen is Bam Nuttall should come back and fix it all, and get the ride quality back to where it should have been.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But that .. well from the sound of it that wasn’t agreed with Bam Nuttall at the time, before the build actually started. You didn’t have this kind of contract.
BOB MENZIES: It absolutely was. It absolutely was.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So why all of the need ..
BOB MENZIES: It was absolutely clear.
DOTTY MCLEOD: .. for these expensive legal arbitrations?
BOB MENZIES: You’d need to ask Bam Nuttall why they don’t honour the terms of their contract frankly.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. OK. Have you asked them?
BOB MENZIES: Yes we have. Yes. We’ve now commenced the legal process. We’re now in discussion with Bam Nuttall. I can’t say too much about that. I’ve taken senior people from Bam Nuttall on site and shown them the situation at Histon that your reporter has just described. They didn’t have much to say about that. They refer to issues rather than defects. They’re quite clearly defects. It quite clearly doesn’t comply with the terms of the contract. I’m absolutely clear about that, and so are our lawyers.
DOTTY MCLEOD: How much do repairs like this cost to carry out?
BOB MENZIES: I haven’t got a figure for the works we’re doing over last weekend and the next weekends. Usually each time we go back in and fix (when) the rubber pads come out, it costs a couple of thousand pounds to go in and do it each time. So you can see when you realise there’s six thousand joints along the busway, that could add up to a very big figure if you have to fix every one over the course of a number of years. That’s why we’re taking legal action against Bam.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And how much has that legal action cost so far?
BOB MENZIES: About a million pounds, in terms of the Capita report and getting legal advice etcetera. What we did during the course of the contract, we held back money from Bam Nuttall what’s called liquidity damages, and put it into a fighting fund. Some of that we’ve used in previous disputes. But some of it remains, and we’re continuing to use that money. So it’s not affecting current budgets.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So there’s a kind of buffer that you’re digging into from the past, rather than ..
BOB MENZIES: We knew right .. we knew even .. when we finally got completion of the contract, when we finally took the busway over from Bam we knew there were certain problems with it. More have come to light, to be fair. We knew there were certain problems with it, and we might well have to take this legal action with them unfortunately.
DOTTY MCLEOD: How long is this going to go on Bob?
BOB MENZIES: I’d like it to be sorted tomorrow to be honest. I’d like Bam Nuttall to come clean and accept their responsibilities. But I suspect it won’t. In effect it will take a lot longer than that, knowing the previous history.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Do you feel confident that the County Council kept a close enough eye on what Bam Nuttall were doing at the time?
BOB MENZIES: Yes I do. Some of these issues ..for example at Histon there was another issue, and actually the busway is not settling but rising. Now that’s because we cut some trees down, and they didn’t make the foundations deep enough so they wouldn’t be affected by the roots growing from the trees. The trees take up water from the clay, and (when) the trees aren’t there the clay actually expands. And the busway’s actually rising. We’ve been monitoring that since before it opened, and it’s risen about four inches in places, and that obviously affects the ride quality as well. Now we told Bam at the time they weren’t making the foundations deep enough, and they ignored us and carried on. And that’s all recorded. That’s alll written down in record.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So you’ve got potentially problems possibly all the way along the route set to crop up over the coming years. You’ve got legal arbitrations which have already been going on for years. How long do you give it before you just say this isn’t working, let’s call it a day, forget the busway?
BOB MENZIES: Well what you’ve got to remember is the thing is a success. In the last twelve months it carried 3.6 million passengers. That’s more than we forecast. It grows month on month. It’s carried 11 milion people since it opened. So people are using it. It’s a huge success, and it’s a real shame we have this problem, that we’re having to close it over a weekend, having to divert the buses round, and we many have to do more of this in the future. Our experts’ view is that eventually we’ll need to fix it all. And it’s a real shame.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So it’s going to just have to be completely redone?
BOB MENZIES: Well if we have to we’ll have to lift every beam up and put these rubber pads back under each one of them as they should have been done properly in the first place. That’s a real problem.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What a fiasco!
BOB MENZIES: Well I’m not happy about it at all. You can imagine. As I say the thing is a success. The passengers are queuing up to use it. So the last thing we want to do is to have to do this work. But on the other hand we have to make sure it’s maintained and kept safe.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Bo we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for coming in this morning.
BOB MENZIES: Thank you.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Bob Menzies who’s the Service Director for Strategy and Development at Cambridgeshire County Council. Goodness me. It took long enough to get the guided busway running in the first place, and they’re going to have to do it all over again.