Kier will not be chosen to complete the King's Dyke crossing, but there is no guarantee the price will drop
PUBLISHED: 15:12 15 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:15 15 August 2019
The King's Dyke crossing will go ahead on the same route but with a new contractor after Kier's costs spiralled.
Kier was expected to take on the construction contract having designed the plans, but after the total cost nearly trebled Cambridge County Council has decided to look elsewhere.
The plans will see the level crossing connecting Whittlesey and Peterborough replaced by a bridge over the railway line.
The project was initially estimated to cost £13.6m, but estimates reached £39m after Kier released its construction price last month, £10m higher than its estimate in October 2018.
The council will now re-tender the construction contract, hoping to receive a price lower than Kier's £26.2m.
The council has already spent £8.02m and will now spend a further £200k on the new procurement process.
Leader of the council, Conservative Steve Count, said he was "hopeful" the costs will come down as a result of re-tendering.
He told the meeting he was "devastated" when Kier's delayed costing came in so high. He said he felt the pressure to get on with construction, but he said considering the increase he could not justify spending tax payers' money without looking for a cheaper option.
"It's a real shame that we have lost another nine months due to this process," he said.
Speaking after the decision Cllr Count said: "If it does come in at a similar amount at least I will be able to show that it is value for money because it is a competitive tender. Without doing that step there is no way I can justify just simply paying that money today."
He added: "We've got to get this bridge built and this gets us back on track".
A council report noted the possibility the price could go either up or down.
The current timescale, including re-tendering, will see construction start by December 2020, and completion in 2022.
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The estimate for completion when Kier won the initial contract for design and development in 2017 was by the end of this year.
The decision to re-tender and reaffirm the contract was taken by Cambridgeshire County Council's Economy and Environment Committee at a specially arranged meeting in Whittlesey today (August 15).
The assistant director for infrastructure and growth, Andy Preston, said the proposed route going over the railway line to the east of the current level crossing is the "quickest and lowest risk".
The council said the estimated completion dates on the two alternative routes is 2026, and it has already bought the land for its preferred option.
Mr Preston said 265 people attended the public meeting in Whittlesey on Monday (August 12), where he said 181 voted on their preferred option, with 87 per cent of those backing the council's plan.
Vice chairman of Fenland District Council, Alex Miscandlon, told the committee residents have to wait "up to 38 minutes per hour" at the level crossing. He called Whittlesey "the forgotten town of the Fens".
Committee member Liberal Democrat Cllr Nichola Harrison said she supported the project, but warned "the need for speed" saw costs rise more than 30 per cent for the Ely bypass, and advised against over-accelerating to the detriment of value for money.
Conservative Cllr Steve Tierney said it was his understanding that every councillor representing the area at every tier supports the project.
Cllr Count said he thought he would be "lynched" if the council returned to stage one to consider a Whittlesey bypass, and added the King's Dyke plan does not rule it out as a future project.
Mr Preston said the procurement process would be "robust" and said with the design completed the authority better understands the risks.
He said: "The price we have at the moment has increased significantly… we may receive a price that is more competitive than the current price, however there is, as officers have had to highlight, a risk that the budget may need to increase. But that won't be clear how much, if at all, until the outcome of this procurement process".
He said the council would be working with the Combined Authority over the coming months to establish what further funding opportunities are available.
Conservative Cllr Samantha Hoy said she was "unsure" contractors would offer a better deal than Kier having seen its price.
Cllr Count said after the meeting the process is "competitive" and so contractors should offer a lower price.