Councillors hit back at mismanagement claims over added £4.5 million cost to Fletton Parkway widening

Major roadworks on Fletton Parkway in Peterborough where contaminated earth has been discovered.
Major roadworks on Fletton Parkway in Peterborough where contaminated earth has been discovered.
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Claims of mismanagement have been fiercely denied as cabinet members at Peterborough City Council approved an extra £4.5 million to widen Fletton Parkway.

Councillors from the ruling Conservative party hit back at suggestions that problems over the widening scheme should have been discovered earlier.

They also defended the performances of council officers who have had to explain why the extra money is needed to complete the project.

The main problem over the £13.5 million scheme is the discovery of contaminated soil which requires an extra £1.38 million to remove.

Other unforeseen issues include: £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.”

In addition, £550,000 is needed 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 problems have been discovered since work began last spring to widen the road.

The scheme is important as it is a vital access route to the A1 and the Great Haddon development, which will bring thousands of jobs and homes to the city.

Responding to criticism which has come in from opposition councillors, council leader Cllr Marco Cereste stressed that the road widening was important to deliver growth and prosperity for the city.

He said: “All geniuses in our city who keep telling us we are mis-managing things are wrong.

“We manage our finances extremely well.

“This scheme is something the city desperately needs. We were expecting before to spend £17 million of our money so we have delivered it at a cost for less than we anticipated.

“We have delivered something really really good for this city.

“Had we not delivered this scheme, if there had been a serious accident it’s likely someone would have been killed.”

Following calls from independent councillors for an inquiry into the extra cost, Cllr Cereste claimed the criticism was “unfair, unreasonable and unfounded.”

That view was re-iterated by Cllr Peter Hiller, the cabinet member responsible for the project.

He said: “We accept criticism where it is due. Criticism levelled at this particular issue is extremely unfair.

“I am extremely disappointed costs have escalated but this could not have been foreseen.

“There had been no issues from an earlier scheme between junctions two and three on the road.”

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, cabinet member for adult social care, went even further in his defence of how the scheme had been managed.

He said: “We need to be clear we have solved the issue. It’s been managed effectively and competently.”

Cllr Fitzgerald and Cllr Graham Casey, cabinet advisor for city centre managment, culture and tourism, both added that the council wil not need to borrow more money to complete the scheme.

Fellow cabinet members also stated that the delivery of the road was essential to counter traffic problems once the Great Haddon development is completed.

The original cost of the road to the council was £0.7 million with the rest of the money coming from other sources such as the Department for Transport and Section 106 funds.

Responding to questions, Simon Machen, director of growth and regeneration at the council, said: “If we had not widened the road we would have maintenance costs of £9 million.”

He added that: “There are question marks over how well it was constructed at the time.”

The construction took place 40 years ago by the now defunct Peterborough Development Corporation who employed contractors to carry out the works.

However, council deputy leader Cllr John Holdich did not feel it was right to attach blame.

He said: “Forty years ago it would have been considered perfectly safe.

“The problems could not have been foreseen. The scheme has cost us less than if we had done it ourselves.”

The cabinet meeting also saw a clean bit of health given to the council’s finances by auditors PwC.

The representative from PwC agreed with Cllr Fitzgerald’s assertion that the audit findings showed the council is “financially well-run and well-managed.”