Work starts to raise guided bus cycleway as new dispute group formed

WORK will take place this summer to raise the level of the maintenance track-cum-cycleway beside the St Ives-Cambridge guided busway to prevent its being under water for six months of the year.

It is one of the key ‘defects’ to be corrected since the departure of contractor BAM Nuttall from the project last month, and effectively the only major work that can be done after the busway opens.

Cambridgeshire County Council expects the track-raising work to take place in August and September, but stresses that it will not prevent flooding totally. It was always envisaged that the maintenance track, which will double as a pedestrian, cycling and horse-riding route, would flood when the nearby River Great Ouse burst its banks – at worst for an average of a month each year.

At the moment, because part of the track is below ground level, it is under water for six months of the year.

“The cost of correcting the defective path will be deducted from former contractor BAM Nuttall, as they built the path at too a low level despite independent and official warnings,” a council spokesman said.

The other major faults being fixed by CCC’s new contractors before guided buses can start carrying passengers are installation of an expansion joint on the Great Ouse viaduct between St Ives and Fenstanton, the fall of the park-and-ride car park in Meadow Lane, St Ives, to prevent localised flooding (at least part of which will have to be finished before the park-and-ride comes into use) and correcting over-narrow expansion joints between sections of guideway in some places.

East of the track-raising work between St Ives and Swavesey, the council is laying blacktop on the maintenance track. Officers are also looking at ways of funding blacktop for the western stretch that is currently surfaced with crushed limestone.

Most Read

Councillor Ian Bates, cabinet member for growth and planning, said: “Anyone who saw the path during the winter months will have seen it was impassable due to the flooding caused by rain water collecting. I am really pleased we now have plans in place to correct the problem, as we know the route will be well used by cyclists, walkers and horse riders.

“The entire busway route is still officially a construction site and, as work is being carried out at a number of locations, I would once again urge residents to take notice of the signs advising them not to enter the site,” he added.

THE county council is to set up a new group of officers dedicated to resolving the dispute with contractor BAM Nuttall over the huge cost overrun on what was supposed to have been a �116.27million contract.

In the end the cost of the guideway could be as high as �180m, with CCC having paid BAM as much as �45m more than it says the contractor is entitled to under the contract – even though it has already withheld over �10m in penalties for the busway being handed over more than two years late last month instead of February 2009.

The council’s cabinet will be asked next Tuesday to establish a three-person ‘busway contract resolution group’ to try to negotiate a settlement with the contractor.

The three will be environment chief Alex Plant, who is due to join the council shortly from Cambridgeshire Horizons, where he is chief executive, finance chief Nick Dawe and the council’s legal head Quentin Baker.

The group will be empowered to lead the council through negotiation and mediation as far as the High Court if necessary, to consider any offer from BAM that offered good value to the council – bearing in mind the legal cost of protracted litigation – and to reject any offer that did not.

If the group recommends an offer, it will have to be signed off by both cabinet and full council before forming the basis for a settlement.

CCC has always maintained that the contract was watertight and that the busway would impose no overall cost on Council Tax payers. The group’s terms of reference seem to suggest that the council is now accepting the inevitability of compromise.

“We are not saying that we were wrong,” a spokesman told The Hunts Post. “But one of the considerations would be the cost of full litigation.”

How long it will take to reach a conclusion would depend on the approach of both parties to the discussions, he added. “The council is keen to get on with it.”

Councillor Ian Bates, cabinet member for growth and planning, said: “Our focus is completing the busway so buses can begin running for the benefit of local communities. The council will take a commonsense approach to resolving this dispute to make sure we deliver best value for Cambridgeshire taxpayers.”

BAM Nuttall was not available for comment.