Council v contractor over busway repair bill

17:38 Tuesday 7th October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: The bid to recoup the costs of repairs to Cambridgeshire’s Guided Busway will cost £30 million and take three years to complete. But engineers say defects on the Busway must be repaired if the route is to remain safe. The big question of course is who will pay the bill. Councillors say it should be the contractors who built it. Today they voted to take legal action against Bam Nuttall, but legal action of course doesn’t come cheap. Look East reporter Ben Bland went along to the meeting.

BEN BLAND: Well if you’ve driven past the end of the Guided Busway in Cambridge, you’ll know that construction work is already happening on the next stage of it, the bit that will link it to the new North Cambridge Railway Station. But serious problems have now emerged with the bit that’s already been built. Now that’s the stretch that runs between Cambridge and St Ives. The contractor that built that was Bam Nuttall. It’s the same company that built the Olympic Park in London, and the same company that’s doing the tunneling works for Cross Rail, also in London. It is a large company, and Cambridgeshire County Council now seems to be squaring up for a legal fight. Now when the Busway was designed and built, it was designed to run for forty years, but after less than four problems have now come to light. And the problems we’re talking about are things like guide beams that haven’t been secured, foundations that just aren’t deep enough, and drainage that doesn’t work. Now according to a report that was discussed by councillors today, if those problems are left to get worse, engineers say that journeys could become increasingly bumpy, or even unsafe. The County Council was at pains, insisting that the Busway is safe to use. They say that they monitor it carefully, and as soon as any issues or concerns come to light they fix those on an ad hoc basis. They fix them as they arise. The problem is that means it’s currently being paid, those ad hoc repairs are currently being paid by Council taxpayers. So what they’re now trying to do is launch this legal challenge against Bam Nuttall to try and get them to pay for the repairs that are needed. They think it will cost around £30 million, but the legal action itself, here’s where the difficulty arises, the legal action itself would cost around £5 million, and of course we’ve no guarantee of success. So this is what the councillors see as a calculated gamble. They have of course launched legal action against Bam Nuttall before, when the Council paid £117 million for the Busway and it was delivered two years late. Some problems emerged then, and that was settled in 2013, when Bam Nuttall agreed top pay back £33 million after reaching a settlement. Of course, despite these difficulties, the Busway is well used, and carries up to 30,000 every month, and of course helps to ease congestion on the busy A14 nearby. The repair work that’s needed would take up to three years. It would mean disruption, sections of the Busway closing for periods of time and diversions. We have asked the contractor Bam Nuttall for a response. So far we’ve heard nothing.
CHRIS MANN: Ben Bland there with that report.