Tax­pay­ers could count cost of £1bil­lion AWPR

South­ern sec­tion of by­pass to open next week – as fears over fixed con­tract sparked

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM PETERKIN PO­LIT­I­CAL EDI­TOR

THE SOUTH­ERN sec­tion of the Aberdeen by­pass will fi­nally open next week amid fury that the cost of the pro­ject has spi­ralled to £1bil­lion.

The soar­ing fig­ure was ad­mit­ted by con­trac­tors yes­ter­day and led to fears that tax­pay­ers will be hit with a multi-mil­lion­pound com­pen­sa­tion bill in ad­di­tion to the £745mil­lion cost of its fixed con­tract.

North East MSP Mike Rum­bles said: “There must be con­cerns this could run into hun­dreds of mil­lions. I am wor­ried about the ex­tent to which the pub­lic purse is be­ing ex­posed to more claims.”

It is un­der­stood the stretch be­tween Stone­haven, Charleston and Craib­stone could open on Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day.

Con­trac­tors are hope­ful the Don Cross­ing will be open by Christ­mas, al­though work is still be­ing car­ried out and com­ple­tion is still sub­ject to weather and safety checks.

The Aberdeen by­pass con­trac­tors yes­ter­day said the Stone­haven, Charleston and Craib­stone stretch of the dual car­riage­way will open next week as they also ad­mit­ted the en­tire pro­ject has cost more than £1 bil­lion.

Fears that the tax­payer could be billed hun­dreds of mil­lions in ex­tra cash were raised af­ter con­trac­tors were grilled by MSPs on Holyrood’s Ru­ral Economy and Con­nec­tiv­ity Com­mit­tee.

The open­ing of the 20-mile stretch is likely to take place on late Wed­nes­day or Thurs­day and will mean that traf­fic will be able use more than 85% of the road.

The con­trac­tors said they still hoped the fi­nal sec­tion would be ready by Christ­mas with the com­ple­tion of the Don Cross­ing. But with work still be­ing car­ried out on the bridge, they warned it was still sub­ject to weather and safety checks.

Stephen Tarr of Bal­four Beatty told MSPs the con­trac­tors were “hun­dreds of mil­lions out of pocket”, say­ing the cash had been spent in or­der to avoid fur­ther de­lays on the Aberdeen Western Pe­riph­eral Route (AWPR).

Al­though the pro­ject has a fixed con­tract of £745 mil­lion, Mr Tarr con­firmed that the con­trac­tors were seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion from Trans­port Scot­land for the ex­tra money spent on top of that sum.

Nei­ther the con­trac­tors nor Trans­port Sec­re­tary Michael Matheson would dis­close how much was at stake when asked if the cost of the claim was in the re­gion of tens of mil­lions or hun­dreds of mil­lions. Both ar­gued that such in­for­ma­tion was bound by com­mer­cial con­fi­den­tial­ity.

But the cost of the en­tire pro­ject came to light when Mr Tarr was asked by North East MSP Lewis Macdon­ald if he would ac­cept that the sum was now over £1bn.

Mr Tarr replied: “I think from what we have said you could de­duce those are the ar­eas.”

The fig­ure was greeted with anger by mem­bers of the com­mit­tee. Af­ter the meet­ing, the Lib Dem MSP for the North East Mike Rum­bles ex­pressed con­cern that more tax­pay­ers’ cash could end up be­ing spent on the AWPR.

“The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s so-called ‘fixed price con­tract’ of £745m may not turn out to be that,” Mr Rum­bles said.

“Con­trac­tors con­firmed that the cost of the road could be up to £1bn.

“The Trans­port Sec­re­tary was un­able to con­firm to the com­mit­tee the level of claims for more tax­pay­ers’ money lodged with them by the con­trac­tors and un­able to tell MSPs when the fi­nal cost will be known.”

He added: “There must be con­cerns this could run into hun­dreds of mil­lions. I am wor­ried about the ex­tent to which the pub­lic purse is be­ing ex­posed to more claims.”

Mr Tarr gave ev­i­dence along­side Bill Hock­ing of Gal­li­ford Try and Brian Love of Aberdeen Roads Lim­ited.

Prob­lems to be­set the pro­ject in­cluded the col­lapse of Car­il­lion, which had been part of the con­trac­tors’ joint ven­ture, and se­vere weather.

But Mr Tarr said the com­pen­sa­tion claim cen­tred on de­lays caused by “un­der­per­for­mance” of util­ity com­pa­nies when it came to in­stalling more than 300 water pipes, elec­tric­ity ca­bles, over­head lines and gas pipes across the site.

Ap­pear­ing be­fore the com­mit­tee, Mr Matheson warned that the con­trac­tors’ claims could end up in court.

The Trans­port Sec­re­tary said it was “not un­usual” for claims to be made dur­ing con­struc­tion projects.

He added: “Any claim would have to be sub­stan­ti­ated and demon­strated for any ad­di­tional claims to be made.

“As it stands at the present mo­ment, it will be within the costs it says in the con­tract.”

Pho­to­graph by Kenny El­rick WEATHER PER­MIT­TING: Con­trac­tors hope the Don Cross­ing, pic­tured yes­ter­day, will be open by Christ­mas

The AWPR by­pass near Craib­stone, a sec­tion which is due to open in the next few days

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