The site this morning...
I have asked the Deputy Mayor for a further update this morning. On 24th June she indicated that the bridge would be open soon and that the project was only 'three weeks behind schedule' and the bridge could open 'weather permitting'. It's just as well we had some good weather - goodness knows where we'd be otherwise.
Question by Councillor Walton
of the Deputy Mayor
Please provide a comprehensive update on the progress of the Brockley Station ramp including what the original budget was for this scheme; what the expected final cost of the current scheme is; what explanations there are for any differences; where any additional money has been allocated from; when or whether asbestos was detected on the site; what the implications of this was; whether the original soil surveys should have picked this up? Were diversions put in place for cyclists and fully signed?
The Brockley Station ramp has been planned as a high quality scheme to improve the area, and forms the core of the Brockley Common project, which originated as a local initiative. The ramp has been developed in close collaboration with Brockley Cross Action Group with a steering group chaired by Joan Ruddock MP. Funding for the Common has been obtained from a variety of sources and Lewisham has managed to find the overwhelming majority of funding from its own resources and by bidding to Department for Transport (DfT) for disabled access funding.
The total budget for the scheme was £182k, which it was hoped would be enough to regrade the area, creating a new ramp and steps from the southern part of the site, along with a small performance area and steps at the northern end of the site. The budget comprised:
• Nearly £8k from the remainder of the Mayor’s growth fund for the area.
• £146k from the Council’s other services Capital programme of which £71k would be reimbursed by DfT once the southern steps and ramp are completed.
• £28k from Section 106 funding.
The scheme was split into two phases, with the performance area and northern steps to be constructed as a second phase if funds permitted.
It was expected that the final cost of the initial phase of the scheme would be £150k. It is now expected to be £331k, but there are some costs still to be resolved with the contractor.
Prior to this phase of the scheme commencing, soil tests had been carried out to determine if the area was contaminated. These are of necessity sample tests, but they were taken across the site in areas that were accessible. They did not show any general soil contamination, nor identify any asbestos. However, once works commenced extensive excavation had to take place and unfortunately on 16 April asbestos was found in a small area of the site opposite the northern corner of the ticket office and then a larger area of about 4 square metres was found towards the northern end of the site. These are isolated pieces of asbestos and could not have been foreseen when work commenced. However, once they had been found, removal and disposal of a considerable amount of soil was unavoidable as a much larger area had to be assumed to be potentially contaminated. This had to removed by a specialist contractor and tipped at a specialist site. At that stage there was no option but to complete the phase under construction.
As a result the project has had to be reviewed, to ensure that the current works can be completed to reopen the station access. Furthermore, costs must be contained to avoid any further unplanned or unfunded expenditure.
There has been no additional money allocated to remove the asbestos. lt is proposed to seek approval from Mayor and Cabinet to reallocate some funds from the Council’s Other Services Capital Programme, identified for other stations on the line. However, it will not be possible to construct the northern steps and performance area and the area will be left with topsoil for seeding and planting. It is possible that other pieces of asbestos lie buried in the remainder of the site and there is therefore the possibility of a similar cost being incurred if and when those works are done.
Despite this problem, the scheme is progressing well, only about three weeks behind schedule, with paving being laid to the steps and ticket office access at the moment. The footbridge should reopen at the end of the month, weather permitting. The final result will be an enormous improvement and turn the area into an asset for the community.
A diversion was put in place for users of the footbridge along Coulgate Street to Brockley Cross then along Endwell Road to Mantle Road and back to the other end of the bridge. The diversion was fully signed and checked by the contractor regularly. However, concern has been expressed that the signage did not explicitly refer to cyclists and for future schemes we will be seeking advice from the Council’s Cycling Officer.
An update from Highways 14 July 2009:
"Dear Cllr Walton
We are urgently discussing progress on this scheme with the contractor. We are concerned to get the steps opened as quickly as possible.
I will advise you as soon as I have firmer information."
I am sure we all agree with the need to get the steps opened as quickly as possible.
However the significant delays to the project - which by my reckoning will be more than six weeks have caused serious concerns to both myself as one the local councillors and local residents and businesses alike. The discovery of asbestos on the site caused some delays - however the delays have dragged on beyond that without explanation.
With regards to the looking at what Lewisham should be doing - it is difficult as a local Councillor and poor practice to extrapolate from one scheme, like this, that has had problems. I have heard suggestions that the contract has not been managed properly, that the terms of the contract with Conways might contribute to the problems, that the soil surveys should have identified problems ahead of the scheme starting, that the discussions over the materials might have caused delays etc etc. But without proper evidence it is hard to know what is the answer. We will not know for some time what has gone wrong with this project, what problems could have been avoided, and what actually went well in the implementation of this project. But what I am most keen to hear about is whether there are any policy changes at a Lewisham level which should be made to avoid these problems coming in the future.
Such changes that come to mind are the way in which Highways communicate with local people over such disruptive schemes, how local people are involved in the detailed implementation of such schemes, and how we keep people on board when delays inevitably occcur. In terms of contracts and the like, I understand that (presumably for cost reasons) the contract with Conways specifies a standard paving slab - the use of a different style causing problems for the Brockley Station contract - given the important role our pavements have in terms of setting the scene for our roads, has enough thought been given to this element of the contract, can we not build in more flexibility and given how many of these slabs appear to be cracked can we be sure they are fit for purpose.