Costs soar by £7m on Chisholm Trail
The cost of building the first stage of the Chisholm Trail cycle and walking route has increased by £7m to a forecast of £21m – an increase of 50 per cent, a report has found.
Council officers admit in the report, which is going before the highways and transport committee, that risks in the project were “significantly underestimated” at the design stage, which led to the unexpected costs.
And they added: “Shortcomings in project management during the early stages of this project have contributed to the current situation.”
This comes just weeks after another large overspend on a county council transport project – the Fendon Road Dutch-style roundabout’s costs rose from an initial £800,000 to a total of £2.4m.
When approached, Cllr Ian Bates, chair of the county council’s highways and transport committee which has overseen the projects, refused to answer questions about the massive overspend of public money.
He said: “The bridge is already up, thank you. That’s my comment. Goodbye.”
The Abbey Chesterton bridge, which was installed earlier this month, is the latest stage of the Chisholm Trail, which links cyclists and pedestrians to and from the villages to the north of Cambridge to the city centre.
The bridge over the River Cam – lifted into place earlier this month – has a budget of around £4.9million, but the forecast cost has now risen by £2million, the report says.
The budget for the rest of phase one of the route is around £9.3million, but the forecast cost has also risen, by around £6.6million. These figures include a contingency over and above quantified risks given the nature of the project and the substantial elements remaining for completion.
One of those elements is the Newmarket Road underpass, which officers admit “could result in unforeseen issues/delays and cost”.
A spokesperson for the county council said changes had been made to the project management team after the discovery of the extra costs: “There has been a management review of working practices and processes within the delivery teams, and new processes and procedures are being developed to ensure projects operate differently and more effectively in future,” they said. “Additional external resource is being secured to cover the contractual issues.”
Cambridge cycling charity Camcycle is demanding to know why there has been this “pattern of overspend” in a range of transport projects, including the Chisholm Trail.
Their spokesperson said: “Camcycle supports calls for a clear understanding of how local authorities manage transport projects, and a fuller public disclosure of what has been called the cost overruns. We understand that the collapse of Carillion (the project’s developers) and the Covid-19 pandemic have both delayed work and increased costs on the Chisholm Trail project, but there seems to be a pattern of cost overruns on transport and this urgently needs to be investigated to prevent the issue recurring.”
Camcycle added that the Abbey-Chesterton bridge and Stourbridge Common underpass work must be completed soon as they are crucial connections in the walking and cycling network.
A spokesperson for the council added: “Subject to the committee and Greater Cambridge Partnership board, it is proposed to cover the bridge shortfall through developer contributions.”
The trail, which is funded and being developed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), will create a mostly off-road and traffic-free route. It will provide a 26km route from Trumpington and Addenbrooke’s to St Ives.
Campaigner Jim Chisholm, after whom the trail is named, said: "It is always disappointing to see such cost and time overruns but we are committed to the bridge and underpass, being the most valuable sections of infrastructure. The remaining sections should be relatively inexpensive, but to gain the benefits for all, they must be completed as soon as possible.
"Just imagine the benefits to those on foot or bike for both utility and leisure trips if this route had been open a year ago?
"This did not begin with the collapse of Carillion or COVID-19 both of which have hampered work and increased costs.
"The underfunding of local Government in the past decade, together with the unwieldy structure peculiar to our area have led to divided responsibilities. The bridge is some two years late, and difficult environmental and planning conditions having also slowed progress. But in my first job in a Local Authority the boss would have started with, literally, muddy boots. Some skills cannot be learnt from behind a desk. I know that Officers and Consultants have worked hard, often against considerable difficulties.
"Compared with failures elsewhere, the benefits of completing this quality route will be huge. Valuable green-space will be more accessible, and cycling trips across Cambridge, be they be to work, education, or for leisure will be safer and pleasanter for all ages and abilities."
Let us get this finished.
Additional reporting by Local Democracy reporter Ben Hatton.