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Consultant firm paid £4million for axed Upper Orwell Crossings work

PUBLISHED: 11:13 12 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:13 12 June 2019

An aerial view of the Upper Orwell Crossings.  Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

An aerial view of the Upper Orwell Crossings. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

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More than £4million was paid to a single consultancy firm for an axed bridge project in Suffolk, new data has revealed.

Matthew Hicks said he was disappointed rising costs put an end to the Upper Orwell CRossings project. Picture: GREGG BROWNMatthew Hicks said he was disappointed rising costs put an end to the Upper Orwell CRossings project. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The final figures of the Upper Orwell Crossings project, which was canned amid escalating costs, were published by Suffolk County Council, with an £8.1m bill the final summary.

But nearly half of that went to a single company - WSP - despite the scheme never seeing the light of day.

The company was the main design consultant for the scheme, with its work including highways and structural engineering designs, planning advice, and maritime and environmental services, according to the report.

But the firm has defended the bill, which it said included more than three years of work.

Labour councillor Sarah Adams said it was Labour councillor Sarah Adams said it was "staggering" one firm was paid £4m for the work. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"Our work on this project was undertaken as part of our existing professional services support to Suffolk County Council as one of our trusted local authority partners," said WSP technical director Graham Higgins.

"As projects develop from the feasibility stage, and acquire more detail, it is not uncommon for cost estimates to evolve.

"Our cost estimates were confirmed as correct by an independent third party.

"Our work spanned a period of three years and included highway and structural engineering design, planning advice, geotechnical engineering, maritime and environmental services, land referencing, transportation, consultation support, visualisation, master planning and procurement advice.

Robert Lindsay said WSP had Robert Lindsay said WSP had "seriously underestimated" the costs. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"This work also included the appointment of sub-consultants for specialist areas of work, such as mechanical and electrical engineering for the bridge structures."

The scheme planned to establish three bridges across the River Orwell in Ipswich - including a traffic crossing to alleviate gridlock on the one-way system.

It was originally set to cost around £97m, made up of £20m county council funding and the remainder Department for Transport cash.

But an independent review last summer found costs had escalated by around £40m, leading to Conservative county council leader Matthew Hicks calling time on the work.

An attempt to find the extra funds was made over a number of weeks but was unsuccessful.

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Despite the setback, Mr Hicks said he hoped work on the two pedestrian bridges would happen.

"As we have previously said, it is disappointing that we were unable to find the additional funding needed to proceed with the Upper Orwell Crossings. This report doesn't change that position in any way," he said.

"We remain committed to infrastructure development in and around Ipswich. There is still the possibility that the two smaller bridges could be built, opening up development of the island site.

"We have maintained our commitment to underwrite up to £10.8m towards these smaller bridges and are committed to working with the key stakeholders who will be instrumental in bringing this forward.

"The Upper Orwell Crossings was a complex project requiring expertise in a wide range of technical disciplines. As one of the UK's leading consultants, WSP provided these services over two years in the development of the project."

The latest data has sparked fresh criticism from opposition groups.

Sarah Adams, Labour group leader said: "This was a project of major local and regional significance.

"Frankly, it is utterly staggering that £4m was handed over to just one consultant.

"The lack of humility shown in the aftermath speaks volumes - over £8m was lost on this vanity project, but no-one has stood up to apologise and take responsibility for this farce.

"As seen with the government's rejection of the four-village bypass, Suffolk's reputation has now been grievously damaged on a national scale.

"The blame for that lies squarely at the feet of a Conservative administration who keep lurching from one disaster to the next."

Robert Lindsay from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said WSP had "seriously underestimated" the costs.

He claimed: "The reason cost estimates skyrocketed from WSP's original estimate was, one - the original design of the main bridge didn't allow the recommended width for a pedestrian and cycle path and, two - the design of Bridge B did not lift up.

"It later emerged that the Maritime Trust needed to get their tall masted ships under it, so it had to be redesigned with a lifting section."

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