MP hits out at ‘completely unacceptable’ delays to King’s Dyke bypass in Whittlesey with residents left ‘waiting too long’
The latest delay to build a bypass at King’s Dyke Level Crossing in Whittlesey has been described as “completely unacceptable” by MP Steve Barclay.
The MP for North East Cambridgeshire, and Brexit Secretary, was reacting to the news the long awaited project has seen its costs balloon from an original budget of £13.6 million to nearly £39 million - an increase labelled as “preposterous” by the county’s metro mayor.
Worryingly, the project originally due to be finished in late 2017/early 2018 may now not finish until 2021.
The scheme is to build a new road and bridge over the Ely to Peterborough railway line to end the lengthy delays motorists travelling between Whittlesey and Peterborough face at the level crossing.
The project is being run by Cambridgeshire County Council which received a £16.4 million bail-out from the county’s mayoral authority last year after the projected cost more than doubled to nearly £30 million.
But metro mayor James Palmer has today ruled out releasing further funding to the county council after the budget for the project rose by another £8.7 million, with another eight month delay also anticipated.
Reacting to the development, Mr Barclay said: “This is shocking news regarding a further delay at Kings’ Dyke and is completely unacceptable.
“There are serious questions for the Highways Department at Cambridgeshire County Council to answer and it is important that the chief executive of CCC makes an urgent statement.
“Residents in Whittlesey have waited far too long for this work and the previous delay was in order to get the details right. Clearly they have not done so.”
The leader of Fenland District Council Cllr Chris Boden has today held urgent discussions with representatives from Cambridgeshire County Council and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and will later today be involved in detailed discussions with construction contractor Kier to discuss how best to progress the project.
Cllr Boden, who is also a town councillor and county ward councillor in Whittlesey, and a combined authority board member, said: “It is of the utmost importance that we facilitate a solution and find a positive way forward for the King’s Dyke project as soon as possible.
“The delays at the level crossing are a great source of frustration for Whittlesey residents and businesses, with a bridge not only tackling the current congestion levels but also helping the area to achieve its full economic potential.
“I have today been actively taking steps to ensure that the combined authority and county council work together constructively to progress this important infrastructure project as quickly as possible for the good of Whittlesey and the whole of Fenland.”
Mayor Palmer, leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, which previously bailed out the project, described the news as “totally unacceptable and hugely frustrating” and ruled out further funding.
He said the combined authority will now ask the council to revisit every aspect of the King’s Dyke scheme and come back with an acceptable plan for its completion.
Tellingly, he also said the council could ask the combined authority to take ownership of the project.
Mayor Palmer said: “This latest development leaves me with no confidence in the management of the project as it stands. It is a preposterous cost escalation that no responsible mayor could agree to meet.
“The county council now needs nothing short of a total re-evaluation of how the crossing will be delivered. We will use our best endeavours to support the county council to do everything within their power to move their scheme forward. If they feel the combined authority is better placed to take on the scheme, they need to tell us.
“In my role as mayor I have made every effort to help the county council avoid such a situation emerging.
“I want to reassure people that I have a total, unwavering commitment to supporting this scheme’s completion at a fair cost and to claw back as far as possible any lost time. I’m angry and hugely frustrated by this development, because people who live and travel along the Whittlesey to Peterborough corridor thought there was certainty that this project was finally going to be delivered after years of suffering routine delays at the bottleneck railway crossing.
“I share what will be people’s extreme disappointment that we will almost certainly now face a delay, but I’m resolved to ensuring a new approach is found to get this done.
“Traditional thinking on how the King’s Dyke project is managed must be challenged. Time and again we see much-needed infrastructure projects hampered by delay and increased cost. The evidence speaks for itself that the old traditional local authority way of delivering such schemes clearly needs to change.
“But I also want to be prudent and fair with the public purse. The economic case for King’s Dyke is very strong, and it is a scheme that needs to be finished, but equally the combined authority is not here to act as a financial safety net every time another authority’s infrastructure project runs over budget.”
When the budget first increased to nearly £30 million, the county council said: “The detailed design has proved that there are considerable engineering challenges that will add significant cost to the scheme.
“In addition to the contractor’s increased estimate for the detailed development and construction, increases in land and statutory undertakers’ costs over early estimates have added to the forecast cost.”
Commenting on the latest setback, a county council spokesperson said: “The King’s Dyke crossing project is currently still in its design phase.
“Cambridgeshire County Council and the combined authority have been working closely together to deliver this important project, which will remove the delays at the level crossing, helping to promote growth in the local area, both now and in the future
“Cambridgeshire County Council is considering recently received revised projections on costs and timings from its contractor Kier before it takes a considered view on options available to it. The council will continue to do this in full consultation with the combined authority.”