The Strategic Lead for Regeneration explained both items (seven and eight) related to Grays and as such interlinked. It was suggested it might be easier to present both items together and then answer any questions, the Chair agreed to this approach.
The Strategic Lead for Regeneration continued to explain the first item (item seven) was in relation to project progress, and commented that Members were maybe aware of the budget set by Cabinet in 2017 of £27.4 million for the Grays underpass scheme, which included the underpass itself, steps to allow people to go over the train line and the public realm which was wrapped around the site.
Members heard that in July 2020 officers presented Cabinet with a report explaining it was felt they would exceed the budget and proposed it be extended to £37.9 million, this was based on officers having additional information at that stage than they did in 2017. Officers agreed to report back to Members with further details in relation to the cost plan, and it was explained that in the interim officers would continue to work on option C of the scheme which was chosen by Cabinet as the preferred option in 2020.
It was explained savings had been found in the cost plan produced by Network Rail, however it was important to note that in some instances costs had been transferred between the parties so reductions were not always genuine savings. The total cost of the project is now estimated at £37.3 million, which was a slight improvement on where officers were last year however it was noted this was still an excess on the original budget.
The Strategic Lead for Regeneration moved onto item eight and explained officers had decided to report as a separate report as it related to land assembly for the scheme and to specific legal requirements when entering into a CPO. It was still the aim of the Council to be able to purchase the land required by private treaty without the use of compulsory purchase powers, however compulsory purchase would create a framework which would give the topics for discussion and hopefully enable officers to acquire the land within the timescales of the scheme.
Councillor Anderson Chair of the Committee commented that in a previous report it has mentioned the towns fund had been applied for however in the current report it mentioned that the towns fund has been explored. He asked for an update on where the application was for this. Officers explained that grants for the towns fund had been applied for and submitted, with the final decision resting with the government officers were still awaiting their announcement which had been postponed.
Councillor Kerin commented he was concerned with the increase in budget cost and this caused him concerns as to the deliverability to the scheme. He sought assurances from officers for the completion of the project. It was commented officers were as confident as they could be at this stage of the scheme, the Strategic Lead for Regeneration continued there were risks within the scheme, however officers were confident they had enough contingency for those risks. It was further commented that there could be a cheaper option to produce the Grays underpass however this would not achieve the quality of project that the town needed.
During discussions Members echoed Councillor Kerin’s concerns and commented the report did not include enough factual information relating to the cost plan. It was further commented there was a lot of the use of words such as ‘maybe’ within the report. It was deliberated how Members felt they needed more openness to report as this could perhaps take away some of the concerns, such as a complete breakdown to the current costs of the scheme. The Strategic Lead for Regeneration explained there is always a challenge between presented information to Members early and allowing an opportunity to comment on project direction versus waiting for a more concrete cost plan which would come at a later stage when many decisions would have been taken. It was further committed that the design was still in the relatively early stages, risks and assumptions remained within the cost plan but officers had explained what these were and how contingency had been allocated against them producing a cost plan that officers feel is robust.
It was enquired by Councillor Snell as to how much contingency there was within the £37.3 million for the scheme as “spades in the ground”. Officers commented there was a number of elements to the “spade in the ground” cost of the current scheme, this included Network Rail costs which were around £8 million, there was approximately £7 million of land assembly and other cost elements which were part of the scheme such as the public realm either side of the underpass itself.
Members commented on the recommendation and the following was noted:
A. Endorse the next steps in the programme for the project.
In favour: Councillors Anderson and Kelly
Against: Councillors Kerin, Snell, Van Day and Watson
Councillor Snell then suggested changing the word endorsed to noted, this was not agreed by Councillors Kerin and Watson.
B. Delegate to the Corporate Director of Resources and Place Delivery, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and External Affairs, the procurement for the next contract stages set out in the programme. This was agreed subject to including briefing notes updates for the Committee.
C. Approve the latest iteration of the cost plan, inc paragraphs 3.8 and 3.9 and note the efforts made to continue to drive cost efficiency. This was put to the vote and was not approved by the Committee.
On the recommendation on Item 8, Councillor Kerin suggested that perhaps the Committee amend the wording, the Chair suggested Members voted on the current recommendation before rewording it. Members took to the vote for the recommendation and the outcome was as follows:
In Favour: Councillors Anderson, Kelly, Snell and Van Day
Against: Councillors Kerin and Watson
Grays South: Delivering the Pedestrian Underpass – Project Progress
The Committee was asked to comment on the recommendations below that will be put to Cabinet for approval.
a. Endorse the next steps in the programme for the project.
b. Delegate to the Corporate Director of Resources and Place Delivery, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Regeneration and External Affairs, the procurement for the next contract stages set out in the programme
c. Approve the latest iteration of the cost plan, inc paragraphs 3.8 and 3.9 and note the efforts made to continue to drive cost efficiency
Grays South: Delivering the Pedestrian Underpass – Land Assembly
Overview and Scrutiny Committee Members are asked to endorse the approach to land assembly set out in this report in including the use of the Council’s powers of Compulsory Purchase and land appropriation.