It was sad news that the Company undertaking the huge changes at Lime Street went into administration yesterday with all the loss of jobs and grief that this will entail. However, some good my come of it if we use the forced suspension of work to rethink the many and manifest problems of the scheme.
I’ve written today to the Council’s Head of Regeneration, Mark Bousfield and the Government’s Transport Commissioner, Neil Gibson, to remind them that in April, when the Council last looked at this, the Cabinet decided that it was impossible to stop the scheme. They came to this conclusion because of the fact that every week of delay would cost the Council £60,000 in contractor costs. The Council then decided to proceed with the scheme with the full knowledge that they would then need to dig up the completed work to make changes to the obvious design faults.
“Now that doesn’t apply and there could be delay of many months as the Council seeks a new contractor who will have to check what the situation is, price the work and them commission the work. We should take advantage of this by getting the design right now to avoid further disruption down the line.
Liberal Democrats opposed both this and its sister scheme at the Strand because there was no real traffic case put before for doing it. It was clear that there would be little difference in the traffic that would use the two schemes although there would be longer queues especially in Lime Street as the ‘throat was narrowed between Lime St and St Georges Hall.
It was also blindingly obvious that instead of increasing bus use it would decrease it as it cut off the interconnections of buses between North and South Liverpool. Also clear was the fact that bus lanes had been put into both schemes which look great but don’t enter the comprehensive cycle lane system that is needed if we are to encourage people to move from cars to cycling and other forms of public transport.
On both schemes the Council has created vast areas of pavement which may look good but actually serve no useful purpose. Too small to become a piazza or usable space and to large to be a real pavement. They will become spaces that are crossed and not used. Quite clearly the fabric of Grade I listed St Georges Hall has been damaged because the Council have not ensured that the Council has safeguarded the fabric of the building.
The Council cannot say they were not told of the faults. When consultation on these schemes took place, the proposals were panned by the public, coach companies, bus companies, hauliers and taxi companies. Basic questions were ignored for issues like where to people get off coaches outside the Empire to go to a show or near the Pier Head to drop off day trippers.
You might say that this was just another of the off the wall grandiose schemes of the previous Mayor, Joe Anderson. But one of the first things Joanne Anderson did when she became Mayor was to do a video for Liverpool Express, the Council’s in-house Pravda, praising the schemes.
The design faults however, are not the only problem. It is clear that there is still much wrong with the transport engineering section of the Council. This is the third contractor in a year to go broke causing chaos as the Council scrambles to sort out half completed schemes. We must look closely about our procurement systems and how we undertake due diligence in a highly competitive sector. No other Council is facing problems of this scale so it must be something that Liverpool Council is doing wrong in its selection process.
Liverpool taxpayers will end up picking up the tab for this incompetence. The Strand/Lime Street developments are already £13.5 million over budget and the borrowing to put this right will cost £4.5 million. Any extra money will also have to be borrowed by the Council with a concomitant interest charge. Who knows what the final cost will be for a scheme that will do nothing to encourage the walking, bus and cycle use that we all want to see.
Now there will be even more expense on a scheme which will wreck bus use and cause more delays than the ones that it was supposed to solve.