Council blasted as ‘failed lessons’ of Secklow Bridge are repeated in Wolverton

Wolverton Station
Wolverton Station

The £1 million overspend on Wolverton Station’s regeneration shows lessons have not been learnt from the Secklow Gate Bridge fiasco.

That is the view of former borough councillor, Mike Galloway, who first uncovered the full cost of keeping the bridge open for 18 months after a fire at Milton Keynes Market.

Earlier this week, the Citizen revealed the station project had cost £1m more than the planned £2.17m budget.

And an internal audit report described the 10-year long scheme as “a blighted project from its very inception.”

Cabinet transport chief, Councillor John Bint, told this newspaper: “There are lessons we will learn.”

But Mr Galloway said most of the work on the Wolverton Station contract was undertaken after the external report on Secklow Gate Bridge was published.

In 2011, Milton Keynes Council chief executive David Hill apologised after an audit report found the cost of delays in repairing the bridge had mounted to more than £1m.

Mr Galloway told the Citizen he will be calling for an external investigation into the fiasco at the council’s next audit committee meeting.

He said there has been a “catalogue of mis-management” on transport schemes by officers at the council and contractors, Mouchel.

“It seems very clear to me that councillors were not being given accurate information,” he added.

“The council are now trying to claim lessons learnt, but we have heard that before. Most of the work on the contract was undertaken after the external report on the Secklow Gate Bridge fiasco and the senior management team putting their action plan into place.

“Even the new project management arrangements in place now have been shown to be ineffective.

“There has been very poor communication to customers – the concept of ‘saying sorry’ to commuters seems to be something that is lost on the council bureaucrats.

“There was sufficient funding at the outset, but it was cut by the government. What needs to be established is exactly why councillors were told the project could be delivered within a reduced budget.

“All of those responsible need to be found and appropriate action taken.”

He added that despite planned changes to the station car park having been agreed with London Midland and Network Rail, the council’s transport department has so far failed to discuss the improvements with its own planning department.

And Labour councillor for Wolverton, Peter Marland, who has been campiagning for the release of the overspend figures, added: “I am frustrated it has taken so long for the full scale of the losses to the taxpayer of Milton Keynes to become apparent.

“As a Wolverton ward councillor, I first requested the report on Wolverton Station nearly six months ago, but we will get to thoroughly examine what went wrong at audit committee on April 10, not only with those involved in the council but also external bodies.

“I’ll be asking searching questions on behalf of the residents of Wolverton in regards to exactly why we still don’t have a fully operational station after all this time. This should have been a new start, instead it’s been a millstone.

“More could have been done by the current Conservative administration to reign in the project over the past 18 months, but the original contract was signed by the previous Liberal Democrat administration, who were also in charge of the council during the Secklow Gate fiasco.

“We need to hear why our city leadership has failed again.

“I’m therefore renewing my call for a full external inquiry into how Milton Keynes Council has failed so many times when it comes to tendering contracts and why, despite promises, MK taxpayers always end up paying the price time and again. It has to stop.”

Earlier this week, the council’s internal audit criticised the council, contractors and consultants.

It stated: “It is questionable why the council ever took it on in the first place. It would have been far simpler to have negotiated with the railway authority for it to undertake the project, with the council just making a financial contribution towards the cost.”

The report described the project’s inception phase as “rushed” and the budget as “unrealistic”.

There was a ‘lack of transparency” over the decision taken, it said, and contractors could not always be relied upon to discharge their duties effectively.

The decision not to provide direct on site supervision was described as a “crucial” mistake.-

One of the major problems was that the original budget was never sufficient to deliver the project to the design specification, concluded the report.

A council spokesman said: “There will be an audit committee meeting on Wednesday, April 10 at 7pm in the Council Chamber at the Civic Offices which members of the public are welcome to attend.

“The report on Wolverton Station will be discussed at this meeting.”