Fletton Parkway overspend – the devil in the detail

fletton_parkway_198608:08 Monday 16th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: There are calls for an investigation into why improvements to the Fletton Parkway in Peterborough will end up costing over 30% more than planned. Widening of the road hit problems in January when soil contamination was discovered, adding £4.5 million to the project cost and delaying completion. Now three counclllors say the decision to approve that extra spending needs to be looked at closely or called in. One of those councillors is David Harrington, an Independent councillor who represents Newborough. David, what’s your issue with the way this decision’s been made?
DAVID HARRINGTON: Good morning Dotty. Well the purpose of the call-in is not to question the need for the scheme. I fully appreciate that growth has got to take place in the city, but it’s has to be measured and it has to be sustainable. And it’s to look into if the Council can demonstrate if it has understood the terms of the contract it’s entered into, and effectively managed the obligations of the running of the contract. There are a number of discrepancies in the Cabinet report. It says that the fixed price contract option is a lot more complex than the preferred target cost model, which they went along with. And it’s actually not true. Both are very complex in their respective detailing and I want to question, did the Council fully understand their obligations in the contract. Because the type of contract, this target cost contract, effectively means that the Council enters into a partnership with the contractor, and they do it on an equal 50/50 basis. And all variations of that contract should be fully identified before the scheme starts, to see what proportionality of any risks have taken place. Now it appears that the Council have been fully loaded with all of the costs, and the contractor, as far as it appears, has no obligation in any of this. So it needs to be demonstrated why the contractor had no costs that it had to meet.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Because this is a considerable extra cost, £4.5 million to get this road finished.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Exactly. And there’s a number of things that are interwoven in the report that was put before Cabinet. It was already identified that this road would need a major upgrade. That was identified in 2011 at a cost of £9 million. Well that must have been apparent then, that there would have been significant money to upgrade drainage etcetera, to make that amount of money costing to be viable. So they must have known that there were going to be problems with the building of this new extension. So I can’t see why those weren’t taken into effect in the first instance, why this £9 million wasn’t identified and put in with the contract that we have now.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Well let’s talk to Gavin Elsey, who is Peterborough City Council’s Cabinet member for Street Scene, Waste Management and Communications. The basic charge Gavin is that the City Council took their eye off the ball when they were signing up to this scheme. Do you think that’s fair?
GAVIN ELSEY: No I think it’s complete nonsense. The reality is that this scheme is a £17 million scheme, and the Council are going to pay £5 million of it. £12.5 million has come from grant money from central government, and it’s actually costing us half the amount that it would have cost just to repair the road.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But that doesn’t change the fact that it is going to cost £4.5 million more than you thought. Could you have avoided that overspend?
GAVIN ELSEY: The short answer is no. Because we undertook all of the appropriate civil engineering tests prior to implementation of the scheme, and we could not have foreseen what was buried underneath the tarmac without digging (?) along it and taking samples from it. So we took everything into consideration. We did all the associated tests that you’re expected to do. And the contaminates in the soil are not contaminates from local soil. The only thing you have to bear in mind is that the construction of the Parkway was done in phases and it was done by different contractors, and we widened the Parkway 500 yards further up and there was none of this soil whatsoever. So everything we did we did for the best of all benefit?
DOTTY MCLEOD: So David what do you make of that? They couldn’t help this.
DAVID HARRINGTON: Well yes I take on board what Gavin has said, but understand that we need to know when these problems were identified. It says in the report that when they did the initial surveys to test for contamination, no significant contamination was found. And yet when they started the work, they identified a considerable amount of contamination. And then when they moved to phase two, which was in November of last year, which was on the verges, they said they’d found a very considerable amount of contamination. Now was that identified at the same time? Did they do the surveys on the verges and the central reservation at the same time? Or was it a case, when they found contamination in the central reservation they should have identified that there may have been a problem with the whole site? And this is what’s not made clear in the report.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well Gavin can you answer that?
GAVIN ELSEY: He’s talking about the central reservation. It was 30,000 tons of soil under the tarmac. It’s not the central reservation. It’s not the verges. It’s under the tarmac. You can’t test that until you dig the tarmac up. Equally when you look at the drainage around the road, you expect that it’s been put in and is fit for purpose. What we established was that the safety barriers had been punched through the drainage system, and therefore it was crumbling and falling apart, and would have created significant risk to the public if we’d left it in the state that it was in.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. Gavin, what about this issue of the type of contract that you signed, one where apparently the contractor had no liability for any overspend or any delay?
GAVIN ELSEY: Well it’s not actually the case. And the reality is that you can’t hold anybody as accountable for the fact that soil underneath the ground which nobody could test until such time as we dug the road up has been contaminated by a contaminant that aren’t even normally found in the Peterborough area.
DOTTY MCLEOD: David what do you make of this just this repeated call that they couldn’t have expected this?
DAVID HARRINGTON: It’s the way I think it’s been managed. It’s not been demonstrated to me and to public accountability that they have effectively made a timeline where things are identified, how are they approached, how were they managed. And this is the thing. It’s all in the detail of how these things went on. It’s alright saying well we dug the road up, we found a load of contamination. We didn’t know it was there. We want to really clearly know how that was managed, when it was identified. These have not been answered. It’s just said that we’ve got to accept that this contaminated soil was there and it’s now had to be removed. Well yes, of course it has to be removed. But when and how was it demonstrated. And the detailing in the contract, we would like to know more on how this contract was made up. Because there is a variant and there is a proviso for the contractor and the employer, which is the Council, to make sure that they have got an equal risk. Or it is set out quite clearly the proportionality of that risk in the beginning. And this has not been demonstrated.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK David. I think you’ve made your point. Thank you very much for coming on the show this morning. David Harrington there, the Independent councillor for Newborough.