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Cash-strapped Millennium Link canal gets under way at last

BRITAIN'S LARGEST canal restoration project, the pounds78M Millennium Link in Scotland, is finally under way two years late, following severe difficulties matching a Millennium grant.

First contract will be awarded later this month and will include pounds7M of improvements on the 110km coast to coast route.

The scheme will open up the partially redundant Forth & Clyde Canal east of Glasgow, and link it to the Union Canal running west from Edinburgh. The project faced cancellation last year when it failed to secure European Union funding (NCE 6 March 1997).

'Confirmation of a pounds32M Millennium grant took nearly a year longer than expected, so we missed out on significant time- dependent EU funding,' said client British Waterways manager for Scotland Jim Stirling. 'When an EU grant eventually came through this March we received only half the pounds16.5M originally promised.'

The remaining pounds30M needed has been raised largely through public sector contributions from local authorities and Scottish Enterprise. These same funders have now been persuaded to guarantee the pounds8M EU shortfall allowing the project to start.

The first two design and build contracts, originally tendered in November 1996, include the construction of seven bridges plus 1km of new or refurbished canal. Despite the delay, Stirling is confident the original March 2001 completion date can still be met.

'Halving construction time causes mainly cashflow difficulties, but we will overlap some of our 16 contracts and remove contractors' risks by ourselves obtaining planning permissions and dealing with pounds5M of utilities work,' he said 'A switch to the New Engineering Contract and partnering deals should avoid confrontational delays.'

Where the two canals will link at Falkirk there is a 29m difference in water levels. Design and build tenders for the novel pounds4M wheel-shaped shiplift that will transfer vessels between the canals will now be sought next January. A detailed design is being worked up for the futuristic structure by consultant Binnie, Black & Veatch, although bidders will be allowed to submit alternatives.

David Hayward

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