Cambs busway: �52m court battle still two years away

IT could be another two years before a High Court judge starts to hear Cambridgeshire County Council’s claim for the �52.5million it wants back from the contractor who built the longest guided busway in the world.

The target price for the 25km guideway – in two sections: St Ives-Cambridge Science Park and Cambridge railway station-Addenbrooke’s-Trumpington – was around �87m. the final cost paid to the contractor by the council was �60m more than that.

After the overspend has been divided up according to the terms of the contract, CCC last year lodged a claim for more than �50m from BAM Nuttall Limited (formerly known as Edmund Nuttall Limited) – even after deducting penalty payments of �10.5m because the project was delivered more than two years late.

In addition, the council will be looking to recover the �2.1m cost of remedying what it claims were defects that BAM refused to rectify.

Joined in the High Court action are BAM’s Dutch parent company, which guaranteed its subsidiary, and insurers Z�rich.

There has been no indication so far of BAM’s defence of the claim lodged in November and its counterclaim, and the company has until the end of March to lodge it with the court. Further legal to-ing and fro-ing means the three-month trial of the action is unlikely to take place until mid-January 2014.

It is possible – though it seems unlikely, given all that has happened to the relationship between the council and its contractor over the past few years – that a settlement will be reached in the meantime. If that were to happen, with BAM conceding the full claim, the county council would not only save a budgeted �5m in legal costs but it would actually end up within budget on the project – but at the price of well over two years’ delay to the project, which opened in early August last year.

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It is more likely, however, when the ping-pong rounds of claim and counterclaim are completed, that elements of the claim will be settled out of court, with the huge bulk of the residue decided by a Queen’s Bench judge in 2014. Even then, appeals are possible.

Ironically, for all the claims of defects and delays, the project has proved far more successful than originally forecast.

Barely five months into the busway’s operation, the project last week carried its millionth passenger, compared with a full first year forecast of 1.75millon travellers. By next August, the two operators are projected to have carried 2.5m paying customers.

So successful has it been in its early stages that both Stagecoach and Whippet are in the throes of ordering additional guided buses to meet the burgeoning demand.