The January 2018 news that the estimated cost of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) had reached £100M caused the BBC last week to interview stakeholders at the EA, Sedgemoor and Bridgwater Town Council. Anyone who heard the interviews and knows anything of the history of this project will be as equally concerned as Bridgwater’s Town Council. The risk regarding withdrawal of funding is real; Government will not accept being led on and neither should the ratepayer which is becoming the real story of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier.
EA and SDC interviews.
- The EA chose somewhat disingenuously to blame the hike in price on the Government making a perfectly normal and responsible demand regarding cost information. Information not previously provided to the SDC ratepayer. It was clear during the public consultations (the boards are still available on the SDC website) that the selection method (river width) was flawed in ignoring the cost of the downstream works and the associated maintenance costs that went with them. Cost confusion about this project has been a problem ever since work started on developing options and presenting the options to the public. Previous written responses raised this issue in March 2016 and nothing was done to clarify the situation in subsequent public consultations.
- The well known poor ground conditions of the Parrett Estuary were again blamed. Ground conditions have become a convenient hook to hang cost increases on. If the costs associated with ground conditions are being continually underestimated at such a late date there is clearly a management issue that needs to be fixed.
- SDC again conflated Cameron’s “never again “statement made in 2014 with the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. People will continue to imagine that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will somehow mitigate a 2014 flood when that isn’t the case.
Readers can listen to the program on BBC iPlayer for a few weeks. Move the bar along to hear the EA at 40min and SDC is around 140min
The defence of the cost is indefensible.
The reality is that neither the EA’s technical management team, those responsible for providing senior project management/Governance (EA/SDC) or the councillors providing oversight have the necessary experience for a project like this. (£29M was beyond their reach and £100M is farther still and requires experienced management). The BTB was always going to get away from under them as it clearly has.
As a contributor to the EFRA Future Flood Prevention report in 2016 I highlighted the issues that are deeply embedded in this project. Entitled Managing local UK infrastructure; the Client Deficit. it highlighted the lack of an independent adviser to stakeholders as a continuing problem with UK locally managed infrastructure projects, it is a situation repeated elsewhere and in Somerset the SRA is a particularly good example of people being responsible for delivering projects that they are not experienced or qualified to do and not being provided with the support they need. The KSD expansion project seems to be struggling in a similar way to the BTB. Googling ones mobile phone is not a valid substitute for experience nor is having laid a patio in earlier years.
We all now understand that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier solution (location) was driven solely by the promoted idea that “river width” somehow equated directly to project cost; getting the barrier as far upstream (narrowest point) was the cheapest option for the EA. it was always a flawed strategy and the cost we are now seeing is the result of that approach. It is the result of not doing work that should have been done during the options study. The initial cost of the downstream raising of the river banks and the cost associated with the intent to continue to do so does not appear to have been fully considered in the original location decision.
Unfortunately, valuable and costly time was spent on what sort of gate we should have had rather than looking at the overall solution and there was no challenge to the 2009 B&V spread of locations. Long term costs and the EA’s rather ambiguous position regarding the long term raising of the river banks were conveniently ignored in the 2016 public consultations. Consultations that completely ignored the principles set out in Government guidelines on public consultations.
This situation was compounded by the obvious client project inexperience shown in the rush to engineering studies before an outline plan was agreed that always results in the cost escalation we are seeing. The sudden arrival of the secondary flood defences is something that should have been highlighted in the option studies, it may not have been needed at sites farther downstream and was not shown in the early public consultations. After 30 years of managing the design process on much larger projects than the BTB starting a project without a real plan is always a trap waiting for the unwary. Sadly, as a result of the BTB execution strategy what we now have is less normal project delivery and more an episode of Grand Designs. At least the consultants should avoid any blame.
What was striking in last week’s radio interview was the lack of any new arguments after all the work that has apparently been done to support the scheme in its present form. What is equally impressive is that both the EA and SDC imagine that Bridgwater will not want to grow beyond the line of the barrier over the next 100 years or that a critical piece of infrastructure should be located so close to the town. Shouldn’t someone have asked how big will Bridgwater be in 100 years? The whole BTB project appears to have now deteriorated to the justification of an original poor decision. It is most disappointing.
The information the ratepayer has seen to date raises questions of transparency or competency neither of which seems to have been achieved or available to any degree.
Ratepayers should not be paying for all the people involved in the BTB project and the broader Somerset Flooding issues to be learning on the job which seems to be the case.
Its well past the time that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier including its location is independently reviewed before it is presented to the ratepayer one last time. Its time we considered moving the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier downstream to Combwich.
The questions of
- transparency with regard to cost and economic impact.
- management team competency
- oversight competency and relevant experience
- the approved barrier location
- what happens at the end of the 100 year design life; Bridgwater Tidal Barrier 2?
clearly needs to be looked at as the information previously provided to the public and one assumes our councillors did not reach the standards we should expect and was wrong.
Projects do not suddenly almost double in price in 15 months without good reason. The defence of the cost increase presented in the interviews was as unacceptable as the scheme itself has now become.