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Council goes public over Cambridge busway defects

Frustration over contractual issues that have left the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway project more than a year late in opening this week boiled over into a public dispute between the client and main contractor Bam Nuttall.

Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) told NCE that Bam Nuttall’s refusal to accept that there are defects in its work had forced it to break its silence over the reasons for the delayed opening of the £117M scheme.

The council said it was still unable to provide a revised opening date despite testing of the busway track taking place last summer. The scheme was originally due to open in January 2009.

It said it and its consultant Atkins could not reach agreement with Bam Nuttall over defects and how to rectify them.

In an attempt to force the issue CCC has revealed six key defects in a report to be presented to its cabinet on Tuesday along with a press statement highlighting its concerns.

“The cycle path Bam Nuttall has built looks more like a river”

Cambridge CC

These include issues with an unsealed expansion joint on the River Great Ouse Viaduct, the gradient of the St Ives Park and Ride site and excessive flooding along a maintenance track.

Bam Nuttall said it rejected many of the allegations and that it was “very disappointed” by CCC’s decision to go public without giving it prior warning.

The council’s move to name and shame its contractor echoes that of Bath & North East Somerset Council in 2003, which decided to attempt to publicly embarrass contractor Mowlem because of delays on the Bath Spa project (NCE 2 October 2003).

“Bam Nuttall has been notified there are defects on the busway,” the council said. “However, it is not accepting that defects that it has been notified of are in fact defects. This means it will not correct them as it must do under the contract.

“These are defects such as a cyclepath that the contractor has built in a drainage ditch so it is unusable for much of the year.

“You don’t have to be an engineer to see the cycle path that Bam Nuttall has built looks more like a river in some places,” it said.

“We are not in agreement with the report. The busway was extensively trialled during late summer 2009.”

Bam Nuttall

Bam Nuttall said it was surprised by the council’s remarks. “We are very disappointed with the decision by CCC in making this public without reference to us. We are not in agreement with many of the statements in the report,” said a spokesman.

“We have undertaken a great deal of dialogue at senior level to resolve this issue.

“In the light of the publication of this document, and contrary to our previous decision of not discussing this contract in public, we may find it necessary to issue a fuller statement at some time in the future,” he added.

“For the record, the busway was extensively trialled during late summer 2009 where members of the public and local authorities have ridden the whole length of the busway.”

Spiralling costs

The contractual issues are intrinsically linked with the costs associated with paying for further work and the delays.

Costs for the scheme were put at £116.2M − including £87M for construction − when the contract was let in June 2009. Bam Nuttall’s forecast for actual costs has reached £145M but the council said this could be reduced if works are undertaken “efficiently”.

The busway links Huntingdon, St Ives , Somersham and Cambridge and predominantly runs along the route of the old St Ives to Cambridge railway line.

The busway is a dedicated track for buses and comprises two concrete beams with upstanding kerbs. The bus has two small extra wheels attached in front of its regular wheels which engage with the kerbs and steer the bus along the track.

Where guided buses will travel on normal roads they will use bus lanes and priority traffic signals.

The council’s six key claims

  • River Great Ouse Viaduct − exposed expansion joint could be adversely affected by water flow
  • St Ives Park and Ride site − standing water because of gradient issues.
  • Maintenance track − although part of a flood plain it is alleged to be flooding because of rainfall.
  • Guideway foundations − the council is seeking assurances over a change of design
  • Guideway beams − some spacings are too narrow
  • Rubber tyre infill between beams − the council wants assurance on safety of the material.

Readers' comments (1)

  • The guided busway was chosen because of the cost was lower than reinstateing the railway. The busway was initially estimated at £54m. In the light of the out-turn cost can we now finally nail the idea that converting old railways to guided busway is cheaper than reinstating rail.

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