Dim light at the end of the tunnels

The recently published Willmoth report into the renovation of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels is hard-hitting, both explicitly and between the lines.

Much of the blame for the tunnels debacle is aimed at Hyder Consulting, which is charged with over-specifying the design aspect to the renovation project. To this day Hyder remains deeply embedded in local public projects, and we have to ask why this is so.

Along with the initial project design inadequacies, there are serious questions surrounding the contract administration and engineering responsibilities of contractors Sweett and Dean & Dyball. The so-called“Letter of Intent” and “cost plus” contract awarded to Dean & Dyball reveal that the engineering firm was subject to little or no commercial risk. This removed the usual incentive to complete the job according to agreed budgets and timescales. Cost plus contracts have for decades been deprecated, so why is public money still being hazarded in this way?

Criticism of the Royal Borough of Greenwich is relatively muted in John Willmoth’s report, but the inquiry showed serious failings in the council’s management of large-scale capital projects. Here we have another example of inadequate executive oversight of ground-level project management.

Commercial liabilities and management failings aside, we are still faced with the grim reality of a job half done, and uncertainty as to when the renovation work will be completed. Greenwich chief executive Mary Ney has made vague reference to the remaining works being within “the cost envelope” and “timelines”, but on their own such terms are meaningless. More than £11m of public money was originally allocated to the renovation of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, and every penny must be accounted for.

On the positive side, we are now seeing some movement from the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels will continue to push for a full and honest account from the council, and a satisfactory resolution to the problem. We in the local community demand our tunnels back, in top condition and full working order.

(Issued 17th Oct 2013)