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'Infuriating' delays hit Cambridgeshire's £116m busway

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One of the country’s largest local authority construction projects is mired in a dispute over defects.

Cambridgeshire CC is readying plans to send in new contractors to finish its £116m guided busway if cabinet members approve this course next week.

The 25km busway from Cambridge to St Ives - the world’s longest - was due to open in November 2009 but remains closed as the council and contractor BAM Nuttall wrangle over claimed defects.

It follows a former rail line, allowing buses to travel conventionally in Cambridge and St Ives but to run fast on a dedicated track between the two, giving a public transport alternative to the congested A14.

The project is now near completion, at which point the contract allows Cambridgeshire to use other contractors to fix the defects at BAM Nuttall’s expense.

Cambridgeshire has deducted £14,000 a day from BAM Nuttall’s fee because of the defects, with these fines now approaching £9m.

A legal battle is expected over both the fines and whether increased construction costs mean BAM Nuttall should receive more than the £87m originally due to it. The remaining £29m cost arises mainly from land assembly and project management.

The council argues that at least two of the six disputed defects must be fixed before buses can operate, because the route would otherwise have to be closed to allow for works soon after its official opening.

These are persistent water on the surface of St Ives park and ride site, which would make it hazardous when freezing, and an expansion joint needed to prevent de-icing salts and water from damaging a steel viaduct.

Other disputes concern flooding on an adjacent cycleway and some materials used.

Roy Pegram (Con) cabinet member for growth, infrastructure and strategic planning, said: “Numerous delays by BAM Nuttall have been infuriating for residents, businesses and the council.

“It is frustrating that BAM Nuttall has not chosen to make good on their earlier promises and correct all the problems, but if, as we expect, we have to put the defects right BAM Nuttall will be charged for the costs and not taxpayers.”

BAM Nuttall declined to comment, citing a contract clause that bars it from discussing the project in public.

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