Bridge-gate audit highlights errors

David Hill, CEO Milton Keynes Countil
David Hill, CEO Milton Keynes Countil

COUNCIL Chief Executive David Hill admitted he ‘was not aware’ that delays in repairing the Secklow Gate bridge would have financial implications as costs rocketed to more than £1million.

An audit report looking into the debacle surrounding repairs to the fire damaged bridge and the 18-month delay in reopening the road through thecentre:mk was released this week ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting.

Costs spiralled as the bridge remained closed, mounting to more than £1million, despite initial estimates to repair the bridge coming in at £215,000.

The fire in January 2010 damaged the struts of the bridge, and it was immediately closed to traffic over fears it could collapse.

Temporary measures were put in place to prevent any further damage, before a decision was made on September 22 2010 to proceed with the repairs.

However, the report highlighted former council leader Cec Tallack and senior officers had become aware of a potential commercial opportunity to demolish the bridge and sell the land to thecentre:mk for expansion.

A week later on September 28 2010, Mr Hill wrote, ‘We should hold off making any decision’ regarding the future use of the bridge – an email he later claimed was not an order to cancel the start of repair work.

He also admitted it was not until March 2011 that he realised that the delays were costing the council around £30,000 a month to keep the bridge closed.

Citizen’s alliance group Xplain led the fight for answers about the true costs of keeping the bridge closed.

Leader Linda Inoki said: “The Secklow Gate Bridge report is an anatomy of a disaster.

“First of all it admits the council completely failed to manage the project; we now know it was a full nine months after the fire before officers finally gave instructions to get on with the repair process.

“But even more disturbing than that, the report reveals that just days after these instructions went out, the Chief Executive jumped in and brought the whole process to a halt.

“And now they’re making feeble excuses. David Hill says he didn’t realise that there were financial consequences to keeping the bridge closed.

“He also says he thought the council would get the insurance money in first, and then decide how to spend it.

“Well, for a chief executive to make these excuses is beyond belief.

“You have to ask if the senior officers and councillors involved in this sorry affair are worth their salaries and allowances, and up to the job.”

A council spokesman said: “We have already fully accepted there were errors made during the period of the bridge closure, the main problem being that it was not identified as a specific project early on and managed in line with our required corporate approach.

“Had it been so it would have been subject to the usual checks and balances, such as regular updates on ongoing costs, timescales for repair etc.

“Next week’s Audit Committee meeting will no doubt help us in this whole process, and minimise the chance of any recurrence of similar failings.”

The audit committee will meet at the Civic Offices on Tuesday September 27 from 7pm.