Angry councillors are demanding to know why Peterborough City Council has been landed with a £4.5 million bill after a major road improvement project became plagued with unforeseen difficulties.
Top of the problems for the Fletton Parkway is a two kilometre stretch of contaminated soil, which has to be removed at an extra cost of £1.38 million to the £13.5 million widening scheme.
But the catalogue of unforeseen problems includes £928,000 to deal with poor drainage, £380,000 to tackle “significant” cracks in the road caused by ageing, £736,000 for design changes and £59,000 for “mitigation measures for habitat improvement” plus £550,000 for carriageway maintenance and pot hole repair to lanes that remained open to traffic while widening work was being carried out plus diversion costs for Virgin media services.
The have all come to light since work began last spring to widen the road which will be a vital access route to the A1 and the Great Haddon development, which will bring thousands of jobs and homes to the city.
Now some councillors are demanding an inquiry into exactly how the council has to pay an extra £4.5 million.
The alarm was sounded after highway chiefs revealed that unacceptably high levels of fluoride, sulphate and other dissolved solids had been found in soil under the parkway between junction 2 and junction 17 of the A1.
They say initial tests carried out in March and April of last year found traces of sulphates and other matters but they were within the national acceptable levels.
Simon Machen, the council’s director of growth and regeneration, said: “There was no reason for us to have expected to find this contamination there or anywhere else.
“The standard UK industry procedure was undertaken to ascertain the soil conditions and risk of contaminated materials in the early stages of this project.
“There was nothing to indicate the level of contamination later discovered.”
He said that later tests carried out by contractors as soil was moved away revealed the extent of the contamination.
He said: “We had hoped that the contamination was just an isolated pocket but as time went by it became clear it was not. It has been much more to the fore since November.”
He said that 30,000 cubic metres of soil had been contaminated covering the two kilometre length of the parkway that is being widened.
Mr Machen said: “This is rare. We have done lots of work on other parts of the parkway and never found anything like it.”
Mr Machen said: “Finding contamination like this is incredibly rare. But we have learned lessons.
“For any future works we will have this at the back of our minds. In future we may have to have a greater level of contingency to cover unknowns of this nature.”
Mr Machen said: “We have met with Department for Transport officials to see if we can secure additional grant funding of £1.334 million to cover the abnormal contaminated soil costs.”
Independent Councillor Keith Sharp said; “There is a lot of anger over these extra costs. There needs to be an inquiry into how this has occurred. All of these items should have been discovered before the work began so they could have been factored into the original price and grant funding secured. We will be asking why these matters were not picked up earlier.”
Councillor David Harrington said: “I find it hard believe this was not picked up at an earlier stage. There must have been surveys done at the start of the scheme. I would hope now we get a full investigation.”
How the figures work out
The widening of the 40-year-old Fletton Parkway is regarded as vital for the future growth of Peterborough.
It is that status which has made it eligible for numerous grants that kept down the original cost to the council to about £0.7 million.
£4.5 million comes from the Department for Transport, £1.5 million from Local Enterprise Partnership under the Growing Places Fund and another £3 million as a loan repayable after 2018 under the Community Infrastruture levy. There is also £3.8 million from Section 106 funds. The extra costs mean the council will have to find £5.2 million, which it plans to take from other capital corporate funds.