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M25 award slammed for appalling judgement

Highways Agency officials were this afternoon slammed for showing 'appalling judgement' in selecting a Balfour Beatty and Atkins-led consortium as its preferred bidder for the M25 widening contract.

Campaign for Better Transport roads and climate campaigner Rebecca Lush Blum heavily criticised handing a £5bn contract to Connect Plus when two of its members were shareholders in the failed tube upgrade contractor Metronet.

"The selection of Connect Plus to run large sections of the M25 over 30 years demonstrates appalling judgment by the Highways Agency," said Lush Blum.

"It has selected a consortium which includes two companies in the hapless Metronet tube consortium [Balfour Beatty and Atkins] which went into administration last year, and one of which [Balfour Beatty] is currently under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for price fixing. If these companies cannot run the tubes, how can we trust them to run the M25?"

The Connect Plus consortium consists of Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Atkins and Egis Projects.

Both Balfour Beatty and Atkins are part of the Metronet consortium which went into administration in July 2007. Metronet is responsible for upgrading, replacing and maintaining two-thirds of London Underground's infrastructure under a 30-year Public Private Partnership contract.

Balfour Beatty is also one of the companies under investigation in the OFT probe into price rigging among construction firms.

Lush Blum added: "The Department for Transport (DfT) has persisted with awarding the largest PFI road contract in the UK, despite the unimpressive history of large PFI projects and the contractors involved."

Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary Norman Baker said: "Ministers have clearly failed to learn the lessons of the Metronet fiasco. Let's hope this project doesn’t end up wasting taxpayers' money by turning into a similar disaster.

"Judging by the DfT's terrible financial record, they will be popping champagne corks in the board rooms of these companies tonight. We already know that widening the M25 will be an environmental disaster, but it may well be heading for financial disaster as well."

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