Crisis talks to save King's Dyke level crossing project at Whittlesey after Mayor James Palmer's warning of 'preposterous' rise in costs

PUBLISHED: 14:50 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 14:50 19 June 2019

Fury erupted after the revelation by Mayor James Palmer (top left) over a funding crisis for the King's Dyke level crossing project at Whittlesey. MP Steve Barclay (top right) described it as 'shocking news' and FDC leader Chris Boden (above) is holding urgent talks with all parties. Picture; ARCHANT

Fury erupted after the revelation by Mayor James Palmer (top left) over a funding crisis for the King's Dyke level crossing project at Whittlesey. MP Steve Barclay (top right) described it as 'shocking news' and FDC leader Chris Boden (above) is holding urgent talks with all parties. Picture; ARCHANT

Archant

Crisis talks to save the King's Dyke, Whittlesey level crossing project have been taking place throughout the week since Mayor James Palmer dropped the escalating costs bombshell.

Fenland District Council Chris Boden leader said he had held urgent discussions with key partners delivering the King's Dyke crossing project "to drive forward an appropriate delivery solution".

Cllr Boden said: "It is of the utmost importance that we facilitate a solution and find a positive way forward for the King's Dyke project as soon as possible.

Cllr Boden said: "Mayor Palmer confirmed that he is personally committed to supporting the county council to find a solution for its delivery as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.

"Mayor Palmer's reassurance that his concerns last week regarding the scheme should not be read as an intention to abandon support for the project will come as a real relief to local residents who just want to see this essential improvement to the A605 at King's Dyke."

Mayor Palmer finally ran out of patience with the troubled construction company Kier who had not only suggested construction costs of the crossing had rocketed but were holding back on whether they actually wanted to build the new bridge.

The mayor's public intervention - he said the latest price increases 'leave me with no confidence in the management of the project as it stands' - came after an exasperating period in which he had tried to nail both timing and price.

Earlier this year he had met with Kier's managing director to pave the route for a completion and Mayor Palmer had persuaded his combined authority colleagues to dig deep to help pay for it.

But with Kier's share price in freefall and job losses across the company in the pipeline, Mayor Palmer could sense the approaching crisis.

On Friday the mayor announced he had refused to hand over an additional £8.7m to underwrite further cost increases to King's Dyke.

"It is a preposterous cost escalation that no responsible mayor could agree to meet, "he said.

He said the county council now needs a total re-evaluation of how the crossing will be delivered.

"We will use our best endeavours to support the council to do everything within their power to move their scheme forward," he said. "If they feel the combined authority is better placed to take on the scheme, they need to tell us."

"The evidence speaks for itself that the old traditional local authority way of delivering such schemes clearly needs to change."

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The economic case for Kings Dyke is very strong, and it is a scheme that needs to be finished, he said.

"But equally the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) is not here to act as a financial safety net every time another authority's infrastructure project runs over budget," said Mayor Palmer.

He said the further cost increases and delays to the Kings Dyke crossing project were "totally unacceptable"

Mayor Palmer said: "It is out of the question for the combined authority to hand over an additional £8.7 million to underwrite further cost increases which have emerged in Cambridgeshire County Council's Kings Dyke crossing project.

"In addition to the rise, the scheme is also expected to be delivered eight months later than expected."

He said the combined authority, as the local transport authority, will now ask the county council to revisit every aspect of the Kings Dyke scheme and come back with an acceptable plan for its completion.

Mayor Palmer said that the county council could alternatively ask CAPCA to take ownership of the project and inject fresh impetus, if they felt unable to come up with a more cost-effective, efficient solution.

Mayor Palmer said that last year council came to him to ask for up to £16.4 million to meet unexpected additional project costs.

The council had originally allocated £13.6 million to the scheme and the Combined Authority Board approved the funding in October 2018 to ensure the swift delivery of the project by winter 2020/21.

He said the council's further request for funding would leave the total cost of the crossing at almost £39 million, with completion now later in 2021.

"It is vital the council begins work urgently on deciding a way forward so that the crossing can be delivered at a reasonable cost and within a reasonable timeframe," he said.

MP Steve Barclay said: "This is shocking news regarding a further delay at Kings Dyke and is completely unacceptable.

"There are serious questions for the highways department at Cambridgeshire County Council to answer and it is important that the chief executive of the county council makes an urgent statement.

"Residents in Whittlesey have waited far too long for this work and the previous delay was in order to get the details right. Clearly they have not done so."

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