Task force to combat rising costs of Suffolk infrastructure projects
PUBLISHED: 06:40 28 August 2020
A task group to bring under control soaring costs of big infrastructure projects in Suffolk has been operating for nine months, it has emerged.
Suffolk County Council last week confirmed that the Lake Lothing Third Crossing, to be known as the Gull Wing Lowestoft, was the latest in a string of major infrastructure schemes where costs had escalated dramatically.
During Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, where fresh commitment was given to the project progressing despite the increase, Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks confirmed a task force had been set up to tackle the problem of rising costs – and has already been operating for nine months unbeknown to many councillors.
MORE: Lowestoft Third Crossing costs increase by £34m
He said: “I am convinced we must get more realistic in the way we cost infrastructure projects.
“When our chief executive joined the council she identified the need to manage infrastructure projects more effectively, and our executive director of growth, highways and infrastructure has established a board to take action.”
The board was set up in November last year, just a month after it emerged the Lake Lothing costs had risen dramatically.
It follows the Upper Orwell Crossings scheme which had to be canned when costs ballooned by around £43m, and the Sudbury bypass scheme which was also shelved when estimates of £40m rose quickly to between £50m and £70m.
Mr Hicks has stressed that those were different to Lake Lothing, as they had occurred when those schemes were still in relatively infant stages.
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Other efforts since then to contain cost increases have included re-tendering the construction contract for the Gull Wing, which saved £12m, and changes to the bridge materials which have shaved off more than £4m.
MORE: Fresh questions over infrastructure costs increase
According to the council, the board’s role is to “monitor the delivery of the council’s major infrastructure programmes and projects” and is made up of senior council officers from various departments.
Mark Ash, executive director growth, highways and infrastructure, said: “Suffolk County Council has a significant portfolio of programmes and projects relating to the delivery of major public infrastructure. This includes schools, roads, and bridges where the county council is the major co-ordinator, funder and responsible for delivery.
“By setting up the Infrastructure Programmes Delivery Group we will have oversight of the delivery of these major programmes to ensure they manage risks, deliver on time and within budget and share good practice, skills and learning.”
Sarah Adams, leader of the opposition Labour group said: “The Tories at Suffolk County Council are experts in failing to deliver big infrastructure projects. We have seen every scheme in recent years scrapped or come in way over budget, at huge expense to the Suffolk taxpayer.
“The public simply cannot be kept in the dark, with meetings held behind closed doors between unaccountable officers.
“The task group now needs to be made public so that its decisions can be openly scrutinised.”
MORE: Gull Wing name unveiled for Lowestoft Third Crossing
Robert Lindsay, highways spokesman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at the council said: “This new Infrastructure Board can only be effective if it genuinely challenges the initially over-optimistic cost estimates drawn up at the first stage – the outline business case.
“If the board only gets involved at a later stage in a project, when funds have already been committed, then it will be completely ineffective. Cabinet was told that, should it pull out of building the Lake Lothing Crossing now, we will lose £21m. That situation should never have been allowed to develop.”
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