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Yet another overspend at Fletton Parkway Peterborough

An eye watering overspend by Peterborough City Council on the Fletton Parkway widening project was revealed back in January 2015. Now nearly another million pounds is being added to that total.

In January 2015 I blogged and said then that what the council needed was a Clerk of Works. It turned out that I was wrong.

My January 2015 post received quite a bit of feedback and I realised that I was wrong about what the remedy is. Or at any rate that what I believed I meant was capable of being misunderstood. So, I don’t believe that the city needs a Clerk of Works any more. I believe that what the city needs is an In House Clerk of Works. I didn’t update my blog at the time (I often don’t) but now that the issue of budgets and management of major infrastructure projects at Peterborough City Council will be making headlines again, I am correcting my recommended solution so as to make absolutely clear to decision makers what I believe Peterborough needs.

I learned last year that technically – i.e. on paper, legally, contractually and presumably somewhere in its accounts spreadsheet the council can actually claim to “have” a Clerk of Works. But also that (astonishingly) that function is currently performed by an employee or employees of the contractor doing the job and is not necessarily even a single nameable person. It may be “contractually normal” to organise a clerk of works function like this: I am told it is. But to my mind it is a notion, provided in the contract, but where it sits in any practical sense and who performs the function and why these persons unknown’s first loyalty should be our council and how the council can hold them accountable (for example by sacking them) is all shrouded in mystery. So a Clerk of Works is effectively useless: like a button floating free of the shirt, as it were.

I believe now that what the city needs is an In House Clerk of Works who must be a member of Peterborough City Council’s staff, on their payroll and their payroll only and 100% and solely accountable to Peterborough City Council. I believe that role should be filled by a highly qualified person (i.e., they might have at least one civil engineering degree). They should be paid a professional and competitive salary and that the job should be advertised publicly and include local advertisements and the appointment process should be open to scrutiny within the council’s audit and compliance procedures.

The In House Clerk of Works I envisage would be supported by a planning department within the city council with immediate access to council archives and records. It is not good enough for planning staff to be located in one place and the documents in another. It is very difficult for members of the public to cope with the current system. How members of staff cope with using it on a daily basis beats me. I remain suspicious about how the Fletton Parkway contaminated land managed to come as a surprise to the Fletton Parkway Widening Project team:

fletton-parkway-route-in-19th-c

Fletton Parkway route as it would have looked in the 19th century

The In House Clerk of Works should be empowered to scrutinise and halt any and all jobs done for the council at any stage in the application, approval and completion processes and to withhold sign off and payment until all the council’s quality standards are met. I hate seeing money being spent on works which are shoddy and unpleasing to the eye and hearing about decisions which nobody realised were as bad as they were at the time.* It does nothing for our local environments, which we pay good money to empower our councils to improve. And it does even less for our self respect as a city.

Incidentally, taking down a wood or removing a green space is not a neutral act. In an Environment City you’d expect it to be considered especially controversial.  But in addition to basic ecological concerns, woodland has long been used to conceal problems with the soil. Where you can’t grow a crop, farmers and landowners will often grow trees which will perform all sorts of useful functions within a landscape. Perhaps the cost of removing these particular patches of woodland and scrub will teach Peterborough  to respect its green spaces and what they are actually doing a little more? We are often told by people who don’t realise we depend upon it and that we live in it that we “can’t afford” the environment. Perhaps this wacky but all too widespread reasoning informed the decision to widen Fletton Parkway? But in the city with the highest dependency on cars, it is likely that a £6M overspend (on top of what was originally budgeted) will be seen as “unavoidable” and “necessary”, because building a bigger road network remains at the uncontested top of Peterborough’s spending priorities.

*For example:

the decision to turn one third of the A1139 parkway lights off and damaging whole lengths of under road cabling in the process, leaving a lethal bright stretch followed by a dark stretch, a bright stretch and another dark stretch. This light and dark lighting phenomenon (particularly noticeable near Stanground) happened all around the city because decision makers failed to check with the relevant qualified electrician what the impact of removing those particular light bulbs would be. In order to put it right all the affected lengths of road would have to be dug up.

the A16 fiasco

the Eye roundabout design (which now has more pedestrian casualties than anywhere else in the city)

 

 

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