Nearly £90,000-worth of taxpayers’ money could be wasted if a scheme to reconnect sections of the old railway line between St John’s and Kirk Michael is scrapped.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the total amount spent on the project in relation to costs and project works already undertaken up to March 31, 2022, is £89,506.82.
The government proposals (21/00026/B) received planning approval in August 2021, and would see sections of the old steam railway line reconnected between St John’s and Kirk Michael at the sites of three former bridges – at Glen Wyllin, Glen Mooar and another which would cross the main road near St John’s.
All of the proposed bridges would be steel truss bridges, with those at Glen Mooar and Glen Wyllin built onto the existing stone stanchions, from which the original bridges were removed in 1975.
In addition to the replacement bridges, the surface of the trail was due to be upgraded, making it available all year round and ‘stimulating long-term health benefits by encouraging people to become more active on a regular basis’.
At the time, the government said the plan would enable people to use the public footpath along the old railway line more easily, promoting its active travel strategy (walking or cycling for regular journeys instead of driving) and reducing traffic on the roads.
It would be designed to provide accessibility for walkers, runners, disabled users, cyclists and horse riders.
When announcing the plans, former Infrastructure Minister Tim Baker said: ‘This next phase once again aims to increase the number of recreational opportunities for people to get out and enjoy our countryside in a range of ways.
‘While the plans follow the successful Peel-Douglas project, they have been designed to reflect the specific surroundings and will provide something really special and long-lasting.
‘Replacing the three bridges promises to bring spectacular results for residents as well as tourists, once we are in position to welcome them back.
‘The continued development of the former steam railway line is sure to be a great asset in attracting people to the island, and the intention is to build on this investment and extend the route all the way to Ramsey in the coming years.’
However, back in December 2021, current Infrastructure Minister Tim Crookall appeared to signal a potential U-turn on the £1.3 million strategy.
At a Tynwald sitting on December 14, Mr Crookall responded to a question from Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Jason Moorhouse about the project’s progress.
He said that he had ‘serious reservations as to whether that’s the best way to spend this money’.
According to the Freedom of Information request by advocate Ian Kermode, the project is now expected to cost £1.7 million – meaning it is around £400,000 over budget.
The project design team fees for the scheme have reached £31,367.56.
It also reveals that the cost of scaffold hire on Glen Wyllin and Glen Mooar Bridge Abutments was £24,890.
On December 15, 2021, the contractor Paul Carey and Sons Limited was instructed to dismantle the scaffolding.
This instruction came just one day after Mr Crookall expressed his concerns over the money being spent on the project. In Tynwald Mr Crookall said: ‘In the last few weeks we have seen numerous trees [fall], we have got a huge problem with ash dieback on the island, we have got well over 6,000 trees that are diseased and we have seen quite a few of those coming down.
‘I think it is my responsibility and the department’s responsibility to make sure that money is spent in the right place at the right time for the benefit of anybody else.
‘I wouldn’t sleep if I had those bridges built knowing that a tree had come down and caused injury or worse.’
The Examiner contacted the Department of Infrastructure last week seeking clarification on the status of the project.
The department failed to respond before we went to press.
In spite of several attempts, we were also unable to contact Mr Crookall.