A21 improvement project comes under fire for its spiralling costs

    A21

    THE cost of dualling the A21 is expected to run almost 74 per cent over its estimated budget, official figures released last week have revealed. That would amount to an additional £47million.

    The project has the highest overspend of 19 individual schemes highlighted in a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) which have, ‘begun construction [and] are forecast to run on average 5.5per cent over budget.’

    However the report, titled Progress with the Road Investment Strategy, adds there are ‘large variances on some individual projects such as the A21 Tonbridge to Pembury, which shows an increase in the latest forecast of 73.7 per cent.’

    With an original budget of £69.7million, the total cost factoring in these overspends is expected to reach £121million.

    The soaring costs of the A21 project and others contained within the report was blamed on The Department of Transport by Liberal Democrat MP for Southport John Pugh who described the NAO document as ‘damning’.

    He added: “It is the civil servant version of a justified character assassination. This whole scheme is late and over-budget.”

    In addition to the extra cost, the report notes the scheme which began in April 2015 has ‘experienced delays’ and will open later than expected.

    A six month delay in widening the 2.5 mile stretch of road between Castle Hill and Pembury was incurred in November following the discovery of asbestos and heavy metals in the excavated earth.

    The discovery of these potentially toxic substances meant around 30,000 tonnes of earth could not be reused elsewhere on the scheme, as is standard practice.

    November also saw the demolishing of earthworks which had been planned as bridge supports for the flyover near the entrance to Longfield Road after they failed ‘routine strength tests’.

    At the time Highways England, the government agency responsible for improving and operating England’s motorways and A roads, denied this incident would set the project back.

    In 2015 work was also halted when a Victorian brick kilns was unearthed on Castle Hill but these were later destroyed when construction was resumed.

    A spokesman for Highways England acknowledged the scheme is expected to ‘cost more’, but added: “At this stage these costs have not been confirmed.”

    When questioned on the issue of delays, he said: “Our Delivery Plan committed us to complete this scheme by the end of March 2017. Due to the amount of contamination in the soil we are running behind schedule and are now due to finish the improvements in summer 2017.”

    MP Greg Clark, who has pushed has supported the project since its inception, praised the progress made so far as an example of what can be achieved ‘by everyone working together’.

    But he acknowledged the delays and rising costs due to the discovery of asbestos, adding: “Leaving the dangerous material was not an option – nor was cancelling this important upgrade – and our environment is improved for its removal. Both I and everyone I speak to looks forward to the upgraded road opening.”