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Letter: Making The Best of a Bad Job

Published on: 15 Jun, 2020
Updated on: 15 Jun, 2020

From George Potter

Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

In response to: Walnut Bridge Construction Underway to Improve Town Centre Access for Pedestrians and Cyclists

I think for several years there has been a lot more heat than light when it comes to the Walnut Bridge. Between all the different news articles, press releases and comments by politicians it’s not surprising there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the financial situation of the project now is and what the project actually involves.

The bridge was originally estimated to cost £3.3 million to £3.4 million to build with about £1.5 million of that from the Enterprise M3 LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership, bodies introduced to replace regional development agencies).

The project includes not only replacing the bridge with a new one which is wider, cyclist-friendly and compliant with modern accessibility legislation, but also putting in a proper pedestrian crossing between the railway station and the bridge.

There is also a linked project to landscape and spruce up the Bedford Wharf plaza to make it a more attractive, safer and better-signposted route to the town centre.

The final cost of the bridge project is now, as reported, significantly higher than the original estimate. The cause is a) an original failure to take into account the kind of engineering the site requires due to the river, the flood risk and the number of buried cables, etc in the area, and b) the wasting of money on a competition for a bridge design which proved impractical because it didn’t take the original failure and its causes into account.

Both of the above issues became “baked in” to the project before the May 2019 election and the staff responsible for overseeing the project when those issues occurred are no longer with the council.

So the new administration which came into office in 2019 had to either finish the bridge or to pull the plug on the entire project.

Finishing the bridge required spending an extra £450,000 and this was the decision made by the council Executive when it was majority Lib Dem. The alternative option, of pulling the plug, was unsuccessfully advocated by R4GV.

The problem with pulling the plug is that it would have obliged GBC to repay the money given by the LEP for the project, money which has long since been spent.

So while I can understand some feel it would be better to simply write the project off and point to the sunk cost fallacy, the reality is that it is actually cheaper to spend the £450,000 extra to finish the bridge than it is to cancel it and have to find an extra £1.5 million to repay the LEP.

This way we’ll have a new bridge as opposed to, for instance, the R4GV position of no new bridge and giving the LEP an IOU for £1.5 million.

The better outcome by far, of course, would have been for the project to have been managed properly and to budget in the first place. Councillors have been assured lessons have been learned but, of course, the only way to be certain of that is to see whether the next big project is completed on time and within budget.

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test 7 Responses to Letter: Making The Best of a Bad Job

  1. John Perkins Reply

    June 16, 2020 at 10:40 am

    The biggest misunderstanding is that the LEP grant is not part of the sunk cost of the current replacement project.

    It may be that the money did not originally come from GBC funds, but, in the event of it having to be repaid, it simply becomes a deferred cost of the current project.

    It makes sense to add its potential repayment to the future cost of any new project when making a rational comparison, but it cannot be subtracted from the cost of the current one. In other words, it should appear against both sides and thus balances to zero. It is not extra.

    To compare the cost of full repayment of the LEP grant against only the recently increased cost for the current project is very misleading.

    Completing the current project will cost a budgeted £3.8 million, £1.5 million of which is provided by the LEP grant, leaving a future cost to GBC of £2.3 million, assuming it is completed in budget. Nearly £1 million has been sunk into the project already.

    Scrapping the project should cost nothing (depending on what penalties might be due to contractors), plus full repayment of the grant – in total £1.5 million, or £800,000 less than carrying on.

    Other suggestions for alternative bridges might be even more cost-effective as the grant would surely not have to be fully repaid or a new one could be obtained.

    Is the current project worth nearly an extra £1 million in these straitened times?

  2. Caroline Perkins Reply

    June 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    Of course, the sensible move would have been to pull the plug on this ugly construction. The town has no Masterplan yet, a bridge is wanted but almost certainly not this bridge which may well need to be pulled down once the Masterplan is in place.

    GBC will be far better off if they send the £1.5 million back, giving LEP the opportunity to spend it wisely.

    Is even more money going to be spent putting in a second pedestrian crossing and sprucing up the area? The whole of Bedford Wharf needs to be developed properly and with good design. No more cheap tarting up, please.

  3. John Perkins Reply

    June 16, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve just read that less than £1 million of the LEP grant has been spent to date.

    Therefore, the maximum amount to be repaid out of taxpayers funds would only be £1 million, the remaining £500,000 would be just a return of the unused grant.

    It means that scrapping the current plans would save £1.3 million.

    • George Potter Reply

      June 17, 2020 at 11:10 am

      It might, optimistically, save £1.3 million to not replace the bridge right now (I suspect actually the savings would be considerably less) but you would then still be left with the need to replace the bridge at some point and doing so would cost considerably more than £1.3 million.

      Much more cost-effective to finish the bridge and have something in place for at least the next 50 years rather than make a marginal saving now and have to start spending money all over again on a new bridge in a few years time.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  4. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    June 16, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    Ball park figures for a wider replacement bridge, approximately 25m long and 6.6m wide between kerbs, together with 80m long ramp is a total of £2.6m plus design costs.

    The above figures are based on this – deck area is 165sq.m @£6000/sq.m = £1m approx. plus ramp area of 528sq.m @£3000/sq.m = £1.6m approx.

    So, even after paying back the LEP grant and cancellation of contract costs, there would not be much extra funding needed beyond what GBC has to contribute towards the currently designed scheme.

    • George Potter Reply

      June 17, 2020 at 6:58 pm

      Those might be typical costs for a bridge but it should not be forgotten that this one is situated in a flood zone and therefore GBC is obliged to make sure that the design is one which doesn’t worsen, and ideally reduces, flood risk. That obviously pushes up the price.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    June 18, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    My rough estimate is very conservative for obvious reasons, ie a one-off small job.

    A wider bridge would not only be safer with segregated pedestrians and cyclists, together with a gently curved ramp towards the car park entrance, but also would not encroach much on Bedford Plaza.

    I would expect flood alleviation to form walls on both sides of the river like in London and have provision for demountable barriers on top. This has nothing to do with the bridgework.

    My suggestion for a relocated bus station and how the bus routes could emanate from there efficiently to the satisfaction of the bus operators led me to think that this bridge could also be designed to take buses out to the south and the west through WTC, Bridge Street and follow the existing routes.

    North Street development could have an integrated bus station or on-street bus bays could be provided instead but both would not connect the town centre and the railway station. Greater use of buses to reduce car journeys must provide suitable alternatives but a half a mile walk between the two is not acceptable in rain or snow especially if carrying luggage or heavy shopping.

    The need for forward-thinking and planning holistically cannot be overstressed but unfortunately, they are not evident from those in charge.

    (I am an ordinary local man with no allegiance to any party or organisation nor holding any post of any significance)

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