Guided bus - ‘we missed out on a penalty clause’

I WISH I had insisted on penalty clauses in the guided busway contract with Cambridgeshire County Council, a weary bus company boss said this week.

Faced with continued delays not just to the world’s longest guided busway but to a start on the 9,500-home new eco-town of Northstowe, Stagecoach’s Cambridgeshire managing director Andy Campbell has started wondering about the future of his Huntingdon and St Ives to Cambridge service.

Construction of the busway – in two parts, St Ives-Cambridge Science Park and Cambridge railway station-Addenbrooke’s and Trumpington – is already two years late. Three mooted opening dates are now more than a year in the past, and there is still no sign of a new one.

The county council is expected to become involved in a lengthy legal battle with the contractor BAM Nuttall over who should pay the escalating cost of the �116.7million project that is now expected to soak up around �160m.

Nor has there been a planning application submitted to South Cambridgeshire District Council for the first phase of Northstowe, due to be built on the site of the disused Oakington airfield (and originally expected to have been well under way by now).

“I’m told a legal dispute won’t affect the opening, but I’ve been told various things over the last two years, and I’m getting a bit cynical,” Mr Campbell told The Hunts Post. “The business case [for investment in Stagecoach’s �3m 20-vehicle fleet of guided buses] was based on Northstowe being there.

“I’m now regretting that there were no penalty clauses in the access contract, but we didn’t expect this level of delay then.”

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The buses were delivered I early 2009 against the expectation that the whole guideway would be open in April that year. It is not now expected until next spring, and bus operators Stagecoach and Whippet will then need four weeks’ preparation, testing and training before opening for public service.

The initial planning applications for Northstowe were submitted in 2007 but have not yet been determined.