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Atkins drawn into dispute over Cambridgeshire guided busway

Contractor Bam Nuttall this week refuted a £55M claim made against it by Cambridgeshire County Council for delays to its guided busway scheme and issued its own £43M counterclaim.

Documents filed last week at the Technology and Construction Court and seen by NCE show that Bam Nuttall blames consultant Atkins, the council’s project manager, for much of the delay to the 26km busway.

They say that Atkins “failed to act independently and fairly and/or to act as stated in the contract in the spirit of mutual trust and co-operation”. The council appointed Atkins as project manager and supervisor and the consultant was also tender designer and “instrumental” in writing the contract, according to the documents.

The documents say that the failings of the project manager were “serious and numerous”. The documents specifically state that: “The approach of the project manager changed significantly for the worse from February 2008 when the project manager’s representative changed from Mr Andrew Munro to Mr David Benfield.”

Specific complaints set out by Bam Nuttall include that Atkins as project manager failed to issue instructions reflecting requirements that the council imposed on it at numerous meetings and in correspondence with which Bam had to comply.

It continues that Atkins “wrongly issued very substantial numbers of notifications of alleged defects” during October and November 2009 “as a deliberate strategy” to prevent hand over of the northern section on 2 November 2009.

The project divided into two principal sections – north and south. Bam Nuttall claims that if the council had taken over the completed north section at that time, “buses would have been operating on the guideway in January 2010”.

Bam Nuttall alleges that these and other actions by the project manager caused it “serious difficulties” throughout the project. It is now claiming that it is entitled to £43.1M from the council.

In a statement Atkins said that as “independent administrator” for the scheme it was “confident” that it “always acted in the best interests of the project”. It said it was unable to discuss any details at this stage due to the legal action.

Legal battle

The legal battle formally began in August last year when the council submitted its claim against the contractor for £54.7M (NCE 8 September 2011). Legal action came after a protracted public battle between the parties.

Much of the project’s two year delay centred on a dispute that went public in March 2010 between the council and Bam Nuttall over six alleged defects.

The council refused to accept handover of the project until they were fixed, while the contractor questioned the validity of the “defects” (NCE 11 March 2010).

The scheme was originally due to open in early 2009 but this date was not hit. At this point the council started charging Bam Nuttall £14,000 a day for late delivery.

A number of attempts by Bam Nuttall to hand over the scheme subsequently failed.

Bam Nuttall’s position, according to the court documents, is that it is entitled to “a full extension of time to the true date of completion on 17 December 2010”.

In May 2011 Bam Nuttall was finally able to hand over the scheme, at which time the council brought in contractor Jackson Civil Engineering to carry out additional work before the system was eventually commissioned in August last year.

The project was originally expected to cost £116.2M, of which £87M was construction cost.

By July last year the council had spent £149.4M delivering the scheme. At the time of opening the council said it expected its final spend to be £118.2M, taking account of claims and the cost of legal action.

The council’s head of infrastructure delivery Bob Menzies said that Bam Nuttall’s documents would “now be reviewed in detail” by its legal team.

“The council has obtained extensive advice on the busway contract and remains confident of its position,” he added. “It would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment until we have reviewed Bam’s defence and counterclaim and prepared and provided our formal response, which will be submitted to the court in due course.”

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