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Secret costs of railway upgrade
THE company in charge of Swindon’s railway forecourt upgrade has refused to divulge how much a series of delays to the troubled project will cost taxpayers.
Forward Swindon, set up by the council two years ago to regenerate the town, cited ‘commercial confidentiality’ as its reason for not revealing the figures.
The scheme has been plagued by problems from the outset and is still not finished – four months on from the scheduled deadline.
A Freedom of Information request from the Adver asked for the total budget, together with the costs incurred as a result of any delays.
Forward Swindon responded by quoting the figure £1,853,703 as the overall budget, which included an allowance for costs ‘associated with delay and/or additional items.’ However, when asked how much of the total had been eaten up by the set-backs, the company’s chief executive Ian Piper said: “I am afraid the information you have requested is commercially confidential and therefore we are not required to release it. Doing so would prejudice our commercial relationship with contractors and suppliers.”
More than 50 per cent of the cost was met by central Government, with the remaining funding coming from Network Rail and the council. Last August, when the legal documents for work to get under way were signed off, the Adver reported that the scheme was set to cost £1.75m, nearly £200,000 less than the figure cited by Mr Piper.
A worker at the site, who did not want to be named, said: “It has been a nightmare. The underground surveys did not find many objects which later brought work to a standstill and there was a problem with drainage on one side of the site.”
Mr Piper has blamed the delays on ‘appalling’ weather over the summer along with an initial completion date that he described as ‘too ambitious’.
The work has involved Swindon Council, Network Rail and contractor Britannia Construction.
Coun Garry Perkins , the cabinet member for regeneration and culture, said: “The final figures will not be sorted out until well after the job is completed, as negotiations, invoices and payments haven’t been completed. I would doubt very much if Forward Swindon has an idea of what the figures will be.
“I have been told it will be in budget and, as far as Swindon Council is concerned, we are not expecting the final figures yet, as it is too soon to have them.”
Coun Perkins said he expected the work to be completed by tomorrow, with steps to the elevated drop-off area being the last remaining piece to finish.
The scheme is part of Swindon Council’s vision to improve the town centre.
At least three million people pass through the station each year and the project was earmarked as a priority project for Forward Swindon to deliver this year.
Swindon Labour group leader, Coun Jim Grant, said: “When there has been failures and delays, it is important that the council and its arms-length companies come clean about its revised budget projections, wherever possible. “Just like the Conservative administration did when they admitted they had overspent the Croft Primary School by £700,000.
“With the town centre regeneration masterplan now receiving cross-party support, the Conservative administration now has responsibility for ensuring Swindon’s regeneration projects are delivered on time and on budget.
“With the old Swindon College regeneration delays and the town centre forecourt the Conservatives have got off to a bad start in proving their credentials in delivering these projects. “And I hope for the sake of the Swindon taxpayer that this does not become a recurring issue.”