Why do costs keep soaring on Suffolk highways projects?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:30 20 August 2020
Fresh questions are being raised over the escalating costs of major highways infrastructure projects in Suffolk in the wake of the £34million increase in the Lake Lothing Third Crossing project.
Suffolk County Council confirmed on Monday it was planning to press ahead with the Third Crossing scheme in Lowestoft despite costs having risen by upwards of £34m since 2015 – the fourth major infrastructure project where costs have risen significantly.
Last year, the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich had to be dropped when cost estimates soared by £43million, just weeks after a report published into the Sudbury bypass – another scrapped project – revealed costs for that had risen from £40m to between £50m and £70m.
MORE: Lake Lothing costs escalate by £34m
The Bury St Edmunds Eastern Relief Road also came in over budget by £4.8m.
All four projects have seen the county council and engineering consultancy firm WSP working together.
Matthew Hicks, Conservative leader of the county council, said: “Infrastructure projects of national importance, of which the Lake Lothing Third Crossing is one, are extremely complex.
“In turn, all infrastructure projects are unique as they are at different stages and have their own challenges.
“Costs frequently increase as greater knowledge and understanding is gained and one primary cause with this project has been increased land costs, whether purchasing or compensating landowners.
“We have confidence in all partners who have contributed to making this much-needed and much-anticipated bridge a reality.
“We continue to work and learn together, and have applied rigorous assessments to give a cost of delivering the bridge of £126.5m, with up to an additional £19m allocated as a contingency.”
MORE: Ipswich Upper Orwell Crossings scrapped as costs soar by £43m
Mr Hicks pointed to the re-tendering of the construction contract and tweaks to the design of the bridge as having saved more than £16m on the costs.
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The council said that it was taking a “belt and braces approach” to covering future risks.
A paper called A Blueprint for Modern Infrastructure, published by construction firm Mace, found that 80% of large infrastructure projects globally saw elevated costs.
While costs creeping up in engineering projects is common because of the long lead times on such schemes, the level of increase in these projects has been a particular point of concern.
Sarah Adams, of the county council’s opposition Labour group, said: “Under the Conservatives, the estimated costs for every single major infrastructure project in Suffolk have been wildly inaccurate.
“The costs of Lowestoft’s long delayed Third Crossing have ballooned by £36m. Ipswich’s Upper Orwell Crossings went up by £43m and was scrapped after £8m of taxpayers money was wasted. Sudbury’s bypass rose from £40m to £70m and was also ditched. Even the Bury St Edmunds Eastern Relief Road ran £5m over its £15m budget.
“It is the same story over and over again - there is a complete lack of competence and an absence of basic due diligence. The repeated failure to deliver the big infrastructure projects on time and on budget has held our county back for too long and left taxpayers having to foot a hefty bill. Serious questions must be answered about how the same failures are allowed to happen again and again.”
A spokesman from WSP said: “We’re pleased to have supported Suffolk County Council since 2013 in bringing forward complex infrastructure projects which will unlock investment and regeneration across Suffolk, including the nationally significant Lake Lothing Third Crossing in Lowestoft.
MORE: Why Sudbury bypass plans were scrapped
“We look forward to building upon this strong relationship and working jointly to deliver challenging but much-needed infrastructure projects for communities in Suffolk.”
Last year, the firm defended its work on the Upper Orwell Crossings, stating that its estimates were “confirmed as correct by an independent third party”.
Graham Higgins, technical director of transport planning at the company in January 2019 said: “As projects develop from the feasibility stage, and acquire more detail, it is not uncommon for cost estimates to evolve.
“Our work on the Sudbury bypass involved assessing a range of options and recommended that the most feasible option was to improve existing infrastructure.
“The Bury St Edmunds Eastern Relief Road increased in scope.”
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