The Environment Agency’s Team responsible for delivering Littlehampton’s £14.5 million Flood Defence scheme announced on Friday, (11th April 2014) to Pier Road Traders, that Littlehampton’s Sea Defence project is now overspent.
So much so, that they’re now having to cut back on the public realm enhancements (the landscaping of the scheme), and also asking the tax payer for additional funds to complete the project.
The exact figure of the overspend hasn’t been disclosed.
Reasons for the increased expenditure is explained in an email from the Project Team as follows:
“The contractor’s costs for the public realm are higher than initially anticipated due to the increased programme duration and additional information on work specification provided as part of the detailed design process.”
The email advises that savings will be achieved by:
” a revised design has been proposed that adjusts this slightly replacing some of the ‘harder’ elements with additional planting.”
Revised designs will include:
- Removal of the bottom two planting terraces in lieu of a planted slope with a steel panel visible at the rear of the planted area.
- Removal of 3 areas of timber terracing at the southern end of Reach 1 in lieu of planting.
- Replacement of southern steps, adjacent to the service access road, with planting and a shorter section of steps.
- Replacement of steps near the lighthouse with a low wall, maintaining a short section of pedestrian steps for access.
“The changes achieve some of the necessary savings, however additional funds are required to deliver the scheme. Arun District Council’s Cabinet meeting on Monday 14th April will be asked to consider the recommendation of a supplementary estimate to fully implement the proposed enhancements..”
This last line in the above paragraph gives rise to further confusion. Is the additional cash being required to deliver the original scheme as consulted and agreed upon. Or, provide funds to construct the revised downsized enhancements?
Essentially, Littlehampton’s Sea Defence Project promised at a cost of £14.5 million and promised to be delivered and ready by early July 2014 is now not only seriously behind in timescales – we’re looking at end of the year before the works are finished and then Pier Road will require works from West Sussex Highways Department, which will most likely result in Pier Road not being open again until early 2015 – but now the local taxpayer will be paying for what could only be described as gross incompetence.
What’s really annoying is just how many hours of our time in Pier Road was spent agreeing on a design for the public realm enhancements – this included quite literally days of our time – including attending workshops, consultation meetings, reviewing draft designs only not to see what we finally agreed on being quite literally altered and reduced in one simple email.
Why did we bother wasting our time?
Why were we so gullible as to believe that this shower of incompetents were remotely interested in how the final Littlehampton’s Seafront would look when in reality anything that was agreed could be instantly altered without any further consultation?
Here’s a brief overview of why this Project is both over-time and over-spent.
1. Engineering/survey flaws.
Despite being repeatedly told by traders in Pier Road many of whom have lived here for over 50 years that Pier Road was unsuitable and incapable of taking the weight of the large machinery needed to undertake the piling works, the Environment Agency’s Project Manager, Peter Borsberry ignored this advice relying instead on surveys by his appointed engineers.
These surveys proved flawed and it was only after a period of 4 month’s inactivity in Pier Road, the Environment Agency’s finally admitted during one of our meetings that a specially adapted crane bridge would have to be constructed incurring an additional £400,000 costs to the project budget.
My view is that the engineering firm who provided the original flawed survey should be responsible for the costs that resulted in their flawed surveys.
Why should the tax payer have to pay for this gross incompetence?
Let’s not forget that this mistake not only cost a whopping great £400,000 hole in the project budget, but also led to lengthy delays to piling works being undertaken in Pier Road.
2. Timescale Flaws
Again throughout the consultation project, the Environment Agency’s Project team were questioned as to their timescales with traders expressing concern that the project couldn’t be delivered in such a small window.
These concerns were dismissed and the arrogant ‘we’re doing similar schemes all over the country’ became their stock-standard response.
When you look now at the sheer technical problems this project poses, you’d have to be an idiot not to be able to see that the construction of Littlehampton’s Sea Defences could be achieved in as little as six months.
We were told by the then site manager that the piling in Pier Road would take 30 days. This during a consultation meeting. When asked by one of the traders in Pier Road how many piles would be needed to complete Pier Road, this was met with an embarrassing silence.
Who could honestly have any faith in a site manager who tells a group that piling can be completed in 30 days when he hasn’t even worked out how many piles would be needed?
In fact, it took the owner of a fish and shop to tell him how many piles would be needed and dig him out of the embarrassing hole he’d dug himself.
And, the piling in Pier Road is ongoing and has been since January and expected to be completed in May. A total of 5 months.
And we’re expected to pay for this level of competency?
3. Incompetent management
The contract responsible for constructing the scheme’s Site Manager has now been replaced.
I don’t intend to speculate on the reasons why he’s gone, but telling us that he could complete piling in Pier Road in 30 days might give you some idea. In any event, his replacement appears to have achieved more tangible results in the one month or so he’s been here, than what his predecessor didn’t manage to achieve in more than six months.
Why should the tax payer pay for incompetent site management?
4. Grossly underestimating compensation for Traders
Easy to see now why getting a fair deal on compensation was so difficult.
Clearly the Environment Agency hadn’t figured on just how great the impact would be on businesses trading in Pier Road.
Again, these concerns were brought (and continually brought) to the Project Team during the consultation process.
I suggested that the Environment Agency’s Project team undertake a survey of business activity in Pier Road in order to give them a better feel as to just how much their works were likely to cost us in terms of lost business.
These concerns were dismissed and no surveys undertaken – however the Project Team did spend time monitoring the comings and goings of fish in the River Arun and accessing the potential impact that their works might have on sea bass.
As we know now, businesses in Pier Road have been devastated by these works, which are ongoing and these losses are now set to increase seeing as the works will continue throughout the summer period.
A once vibrant and brilliantly independent business location is now reliant on state-handouts to keep the lights on.
5. Excessive and ever-increasing ‘professional fees’.
What’s become clear with this project is that the Environment Agency is nothing more than a group of walking, talking pen pushers.
Any expertise/professional service that’s required has to be bought in – and at considerable costs.
Whether it’s to assess trader’s compensation claims, or make a decision as to the type of pile used, the Environment Agency’s Project Team are either unable, unqualified or unwilling to undertake these tasks which then have to be farmed out private practices to provide.
Consequently costs spiral.
Ultimately, we (Pier Road Traders) were led to believe right throughout the lengthy consultation process that the Environment Agency has agreed a fixed cost contract for the works.
It’s unacceptable now that they’ve quite literally cocked up so much that we the local tax payer are not only having to fund their incompetence by way of providing additional monies, but also are seeing what was a somewhat under whelming public realm now being reduced further as they’ve overspent.
I have no doubt that Monday night’s Cabinet Meeting at Arun District Council will approve the additional funding – after all – what choice have they got?
In any event, it’s unacceptable that the public should pay for incompetence.
The Environment Agency will of course blame the weather and any other convenient peg they can hang their problems on. However, what they can’t get away from is that they fact that the fundamental principles behind this project were seriously flawed and data provided by expensive experts has proved detrimental to the costs and duration of this scheme.
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As always, thanks for reading.
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