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Failure to foresee £13m overspend on Ely bypass was ‘foolhardy’

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A CGI of the link
A CGI of the link

There are claims failure to foresee a £13million overspend on the Ely bypass scheme was “foolhardy”, and a suggestion that, if the council was a business, “heads would roll”.

Councillors, however, have hit back at suggestions “inappropriate pressure” may have been put on officers to accelerate the scheme without looking in enough depth into the possible financial repercussions.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s general purposes committee was today (Tuesday, May 29) asked to approve additional prudential borrowing of £13million for the completion of the Ely Southern Bypass scheme. Earlier this year, it was revealed the bypass, a mile-long link between Stuntney Causeway and Angel Drove in Ely, would come in £13million over its previous £36million budget.

Lib Dem Cllr Sebastian Kindersley said the council should have anticipated the project could cost more in the first place.

Cllr Kindersley said: “My understanding is that we did a series of stage one assessments on how much it was going to cost, but there were no stage two assessments done until after the contract was awarded.

“Someone thought it was more important to get it started than to get it started correctly. It seems foolhardy at best.”

Conservative Cllr Ian Bates, denied the move to proceed with the project was “foolhardy”, and noted there had been difficulties during the construction.

He pointed out that engineers had to dig down further than anticipated in the boggy fenland soil to find hard earth to build the supports for the bypass on. He also said work had been set back after workers unearthed an electric cable.

“There are various reasons this has cost us more,” said Cllr Bates.

Cllr Kindersley suggested that if the council was a business “somebody’s head would be rolling” over the overspend.

Conservative leader Steve Count said there was a full auditable trail which showed the decision making process.

Lib Dem Cllr David Jenkins said he was concerned that “inappropriate pressure” had been put on officers by councillors to accelerate the project.

Conservative Anna Bailey, however, said that any idea the scheme was premature was “completely wrong”, and that the situation in Ely “could not continue” as it was, with lorries being held up in the city centre.

“It is an inappropriate road lay out, and it could not continue,” said Cllr Bailey. “It is completely wrong to say we rushed into the decision about the Ely bypass. The decision has been in the making for years. That solution was chosen after a lot of hard work.”

Cllr Bailey said delaying the building of the bypass would probably have cost more in the long run, but she agreed there were “lessons to be learned” from how the scheme was handled, but said the benefits of the bypass were clear.

“I can’t tell you how utterly untenable doing nothing in that situation would have been,” said Cllr Bailey. “It has an economic impact, not just in east Cambs.”

The committee voted to approve the additional borrowing for the scheme.

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