THE chief executive of Milton Keynes Council has apologised to the public over the Secklow Gate Bridge debacle that has cost taxpayers more than £1 million.
Speaking exclusively to the Citizen, David Hill said he was sorry for the potential financial losses and problems caused by the lengthy delays in repairing the bridge and regretted how the matter was dealt with.
He also admitted the council would have to work hard to re-establish the confidence of taxpayers and ordered an independent report to investigate what went wrong.
He said: “The Secklow Gate Bridge work was not officially registered as a formal project as it should have been. This meant it was not subjected to the rigorous, good industry standards that people are used to.
“We will now be undergoing an external review and this will help us to address any problems we have in terms of approach to project management, and any other areas of weakness we have.
“The Corporate Leadership Team is reasonably confident that the mitigating actions described in the confidential annexe to the report will minimise the financial costs to the council in delaying the commissioning of the bridge repairs.
“CLT is very conscious that the delay entailed adverse consequences for many residents and businesses, particularly for the market traders. We would like to apologise to all those who were affected.”
The council’s audit committee met on Tuesday to examine the internal report into what went wrong with Secklow Gate Bridge.
Problems started around 18 months ago after a fire under the bridge destroyed areas of the Milton Keynes market and damaged the struts of the bridge. The bridge was later closed to traffic over fears it may collapse.
Initial reports estimated repair work would cost £215,000 and be completed within five weeks.
The key failing identified in the internal audit report was the failure – beyond the prompt and effective emergency response – to identify the consequences of the fire as a formal project.
Leader of the council, Councillor Andrew Geary said: “Once again the council finds its reputation in difficulty. The report doesn’t go nearly enough to unearth what really happened. We need to rebuild and repair our reputation and the external inquiry will go a long way to doing that.
There was cross-party support for the recommendations put forward. Lib Dem leader, Sam Crooks, said: “I believe now that we need a similar external report – into Secklow Gate specifically – and into our project management more generally.
“There is too much noise in the system, costing us too much money, for this to be brushed under the carpet.”
Linda Inoki, leader of Xplain – the group which spearheaded the campaign to re-open the bridge said: “Currently the spotlight is on senior officers such as David Hill. But what were our elected leaders up to during this slow motion fiasco?”
“Why did the cabinet of the time do nothing while CMK looked like a bomb-site and traffic and trade was visibly struggling under their noses? There’s something odd about this whole affair and I hope voters and ratepayers will learn the truth from this new investigation.”