Brockley Common - the official response

Following the recent controversy over the quality of materials that will be used in the construction of the next phase of Brockley Common, the ever-diligent JPM sought official reaction from Lewisham Council.

The response he received came from the Executive Director for Regeneration, Malcom Smith and we reproduce it almost in full below. Though it's understandable that the Council should seek value for money from public works projects, the conversations we have had with the BXAG recently suggest that the BXAG has unreasonably been kept at arms length during the most recent stages of the project's development. The BXAG conceived the project and provided a lot of free consultancy time from the group's members who include professional architects and planners.

We hope that, given the latest delay to the project, there is still time to get all sides back around the table to discuss how a project can be delivered that the community will feel proud of. If the end result of years of work and and pain is a basic tarmac ramp then it will have been a colossal waste of time and energy, to rival the aborted attempts to improve Brockley Cross itself.

The quality of materials used will be essential to the project's success. If the budget doesn't allow for the materials specified, then some lateral thinking is required to find an alternative solution. But that kind of solution will be hard to reach if the Council won't engage the BXAG properly.

Here is the letter:

The Council has worked very closely with the Brockley Cross Action Group (BXAG) to realise the construction of a DDA-compliant ramp and steps to replace the rather severe ramp that currently links Coulgate Street and the ticket office to Brockley railway station and the public footbridge that leads onward to Mantle Road. The Council has held extensive meetings with the BXAG's designer and has shared global costing for the work. The term contractor's rates are commercially sensitive and remain confidential.
Located entirely on land owned by Network Rail, the project requires a licence before any site works can commence. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to carry out any physical work on site. The loss of the project this year is very disappointing, but it is hoped that, subject to funding being available to be slipped into 2009/10 and the terms of the licence reviewed, that the works can be carried out in early 2009/10.
BXAG has been very proactive with the project but from the press release seen and at various meetings does not always seem to have widely appreciated the constraints within which the Council has to operate. I would like to take this opportunity to explain the background to events.
The agreed pre-works layout comprised a ramp up to circulating area adjacent to the ticket office via an intermediate hairpin turn at a performance area, with [southern] steps leading up to the circulation area and other [northern] steps to the performance area.
The project was originally planned to proceed at the end of 2007/08 and continue into early 2008/09 as there were two separate budgets attributed to each of those years. For various reasons it was not possible to proceed with the works and part of the budget expired. With additional funding, the project was resurrected in August 2008 and despite the concerted efforts of Council and Network Rail officers no acceptable agreement with regard to insurance coverage could be reached in time that would permit the works to be completed before the close March 2009.
It has been impressed upon the BXAG that it is the Council that is responsible for the procurement and execution of the works and as a publicly accountable authority the Council has to deliver the project within the available auditable budget and on time. Based upon the state of licence negotiations at the time of the South London Press article you refer to, BXAG was advised that work would have to commence late in November if completion was to be achieved within the time available, and that costs would have to be contained within the budget. The materials BXAG prefer are hand-made to order and significantly more expensive than the quality materials the Council uses everywhere else in the Borough - it was made quite clear that delivery of the materials would have to meet the requirements of the works programme.
In the event, and notwithstanding the good intentions of BXAG and its representations to the specialist materials supplier, the paving, high edging units and cladding materials were quoted at £90,000 to only supply, a sum well in excess of what had been discussed in earlier meetings where the supplier was present. In addition, half this sum was to be paid in advance. Given that the Council had still not gained authority to work on the site and was unable to issue an order to the contractor, delivery of all the materials in time was questionable. Advance payment on materials for works that could not be guaranteed to start would have been a high risk to the Council in terms of unknown ongoing liquidity of the supplier and future safe storage, and associated costs thereof, of any stock delivered.
The budget for the project was £182,000. The BXAG ideal would have cost £295,000. Schemes using alternative paving systems were therefore assembled - asphalt [£193,000], block paving [£183,000] and small format paving slabs [£197,000]. All sums included a 10% contingency. Initially the block paving option was adopted, due to its ready availability and to meet the budget, but as a compromise, and with ever reducing construction time available whilst awaiting the licence, the project was curtailed to incorporate only the ramp, southern steps, circulating area and small section of the performance area but using BXAG-preferred hand-made paving units only, in-lieu of the block paving, which were understood to be available in stock.
Thanks to JPM for his work.