Investigation into standard of work on Manx roads

Laurence Skelly MHK

Laurence Skelly MHK

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New tendering procedures for roadworks will be brought in from April next year after a number of high-profile projects were beset by defects and delays.

Infrastructure Minister Laurence Skelly said the problems have ‘highlighted, quite frankly, that the lowest price is not always the best value’.

Finch Road in Douglas is the latest scheme to have hit problems with private contractor Island Drainage and Groundwork having to plane off and relay the asphalt after it began to disintegrate soon after the road was resurfaced.

Meanwhile, a full investigation is underway into drainage issues on Peel Road after a section flooded in heavy rain. A £4.3m reconstruction project, which was supposed to include flood alleviation measures, was only completed in March after more than a year of disruption.

Preliminary inquiries by the Manx Utilities Authority suggest the drainage system had been partially blocked by silt and other material from the roadworks.

And down in Port Erin, the village has been virtually cut off for months after roadworks on Castletown Road slipped eight weeks behind schedule. Problems with drainage and the level of manhole covers have meant that sections of the new road surface are having to be relaid by contractor Colas.

Mr Skelly said: ‘We are reviewing standards of road works for all our contracted works.

‘I do accept this is not just private contracted works but also our own crews. Maintaining a standard and quality finish that is acceptable to road users and tax payers is vitally important. I do, however, remain committed to working with the private sector.’

He added: ‘We have made a decision to consult with the industry about new procedures with regards to tendering. We will do that over the summer so that the new arrangements are in place for next year.

‘I absolutely admit we have been concerned with some of the defects we’ve had and we need to try to find a solution. We need to ensure we get value. The important thing is that if there are issues, the defects are dealt with while the contractors are on the job.’

In each case, the defects are being rectified at the contractors’ own cost. But the problems will be seized on by critics of the policy to outsource roadworks to the private sector.

In relation to Finch Road, DoI operations director Jeff Robinson said: ‘Following completion of the scheme, the department’s site engineers identified parts of the surface fell below quality expectations. The issue was raised with Island Drainage and Groundwork as a non-conformance and they agreed to relay the surface to rectify the defect. The cost was borne by the contractor.

‘The Highway Services Division is reviewing its internal procedures for the procurement of goods and services, including the management of quality, safety and sustainability. It will be consulting the industry on its proposed new procedures at the end of the summer, with a view to having new arrangements in place for April next year.’

Problems on Peel Road hit the headlines in March when it emerged that a series of test holes revealed problems with the thickness and compaction of the asphalt laid by Island Drainage and Groundwork - and sections had to be resurfaced.

Operations director Mr Robinson said the flooding this month may have been caused by a blockage in the drainage system further down the line from Peel Road.

But Alfred Cannan, chairman of the Manx Utilities Authority, said: ‘The MUA is aware there has been a flooding issue on Peel Road. Preliminary indications are that there has been a build up of silt and material associated with the recent roadworks.

‘This should be relatively simple matter to deal with. As soon as we have full clarification we will issue a statement.’

A new roundabout at Four Roads in the south of the island was finally due to open today.

Reopening of the road couldn’t come soon enough for one businessman who has seen takings hit hard by lack of passing trade.

Julian Driver, who runs The Station in Port St Mary. said: ‘It just goes on and on, Nobody told us initially the road would be shut. We opened 10 months ago. This is our busy time, we have an outside area but no one can see that because there is no passing trade.

‘It is very frustrating. We know it’s having a massive impact on trade, on Friday nights, we are two thirds down. For the last four or five weeks we have been nowhere near what we used to get and that’s without TT.

‘From running landscape gardening company JD Landscapes I know you put your ground works in and make sure everything is in place before you do the top layer. But they put stuff down then rip it out. They do not put the extra hours in. The roads are shut at the weekends and nothing is happening and it’s not a particularly great job at the end of it.

‘We invested a huge amount in this. Any disruption is hard and when you do not get told about it, it’s annoying.’

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