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Darling dithering destroys ECI cost savings

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GOVERNMENT FAILURE to release funds for a £60M planning approved Cornish road widening scheme is set to push the project over time and over budget before construction even starts.

Engineers planning the 11.5km improvement scheme for the A30 between Bodmin and Indian Queens in Cornwall warned t his week that transport secretary Alistair Darling's indecision had prevented the early completion of detailed design.

If the design had been completed, they pointed out, the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) scheme could have achieved a January start on site, six months ahead of schedule.

The news comes just two months after Darling savaged the construction industry for failing to control rising costs on road improvement schemes.

In his July transport review Darling complained that 'road construction costs have gone up dramatically and I am making it clear that I am not going to pay' (NCE 22 July).

But lead designer Scott Wilson said this week that they had been expecting a government decision since July.

This would have allowed ECI contractor Alfred McAlpine to clear a route through the largely greenfield site ahead of nesting season, allowing earthworks to start unconstrained by environmental concerns in April.

'It's a very frustrating period, ' said Scott Wilson project director William Kemp.

'We've pushed very hard on the scheme and met all the targets.

'We wanted to be under construction six months ahead of programme - that really is speeding up delivery, ' he said.

'So we are frustrated that our political masters are not coming through.'

Darling's failure to make a final decision - a successful public inquiry concluded in February - means that a January start is now out of the question and the site cannot be cleared ahead of the nesting season.

Scott Wilson project manager David Hughes added: 'We're looking at contingency plans at the moment because nobody wants to see it shut down for six months or a year.'

Earthworks will now have to be carried out piecemeal adding to the construction time and pushing up costs.

'It's not too late to start but it is too late to start as much as we had wanted to, ' said Hughes. 'Our aim is to build from eastern end and work west.

'Hopefully we will still be able to get some critical areas down but if we were delayed another couple of months that chance would evaporate. At the moment we are on a knife-edge.'

The Department for Transport said a decision was pending but is not expected until next month at the earliest.

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