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Can Scotland keep a lid on construction costs?

Indecision about the route of the Edinburgh trams might be hilarious if wasn’t so tragic, particularly for local residents who will be paying for the overruns (News last week).

But things got worse for transport north of the border last week with the revelation that Aberdeen’s bypass scheme would be delayed.

With the Edinburgh tram cost overruns still fresh in the mind and construction due to begin this month on the Forth Replacement Crossing, there is concern about whether Scotland can deliver on its major infrastructure schemes.

The question now is whether anything can be learnt from recent experiences to prevent the Forth Replacement Crossing suffering a similar outcome to the Edinburgh tram.

Too much politics

Engineers say that the problem stems from poor clients and too much politics.

Observers of the ongoing tram fiasco will notice that plans to curtail the line before it reaches the city centre have been dropped, but that this decision will cost Edinburgh City Council £231M on top of the £45M it
has already invested and the £500M committed by Transport Scotland.

Sources close to the scheme heap a lot of the blame on client Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (Tie) - an arm’s length body that was charged by Edinburgh City Council to deliver the project.

“If Transport Scotland had handled this from the beginning I don’t think we would be in this position”Watt

Alan Watt, Ceca Scotland

A source close to the build consortium of contractor Bilfinger Berger and systems firm Siemens says that despite the pledge from Tie that the project would be delivered for a “final” price of £512M “there were some design gaps that required real time pricing”. This meant it couldn’t be described as a final price - a concern which NCE understands Bilfinger Berger had raised early in the project.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association Scotland chief executive Alan Watt puts much of the blame on the fact that Transport Scotland stepped away from the job in 2007 following the Scottish National Party (SNP)’s victory in the Scottish elections.

Government grant

The SNP hadn’t backed the scheme, but with it so far progressed, granted £500M in government funding and made Tie responsible for delivery.

“If Transport Scotland had handled this from the beginning I don’t think we would be in this position,” said Watt.
Watt points to the successful completion of £320M M80 and £692M M74 extension projects and the £120M Clackmannanshire Bridge - all overseen by Transport Scotland.

Transport Scotland is also responsible for the Forth Replacement Crossing.

“In less than three years the Forth Replacement Crossing project has successfully gone from the drawing board to public consultation, achieved parliamentary approval and completed procurement - meeting the challenging schedule first set out in 2008 and delivering a substantial saving to Scotland’s capital budget,” says a Transport Scotland spokesman.

Contract price

Indeed Transport Scotland originally estimated the cost of the crossing at between £1.2bn to £1.7bn but the contract price has come in at £790M.

However, John Carson, an Edinburgh resident and retired civil engineer who help Network Rail’s transistion from Railtrack, suggests that the initial costing was an overestimate, indicating that Transport Scotland has no real understanding of how much the crossing will cost.

“With such over estimated costs a contractor won’t be too low on price,” says Carson, adding that a similar project in continental Europe would cost closer to £400M. The Scottish government agencies do not have a proven track record of delivering projects and taxpayers are getting ripped off,” he adds.

One bidder

Carson cites the M74 extension as being very expensive for its length, its high costs compounded by the fact there was only one bidder for the project.

The Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route was delayed last week after campaigner RoadSense forced a judicial review of the route selection method.

However, Carson again points to the high cost of the scheme: “£395M for a 46km dual carriageway is a lot of money.”

With construction of the Forth Replacement Crossing due to begin this month, engineers across the UK and world will be keen to see how it will progress.

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