Most expensive road attacked as wasteful by MPs

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The Independent Online
The most expensive road ever built in Britain came in for savage criticism yesterday from a powerful all-party committee of MPs.

Measuring 1.8 km, the Limehouse Link, which opened in May 1993, connects the East End of London with Docklands. It cost pounds 360m and works out at the equivalent of pounds 86,000 per foot.

MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee said it was "unsatisfactory" that the Docklands Development Corporation had not carried out an economic study of the options for the road scheme, which had been built after pressure from property developers in the area. The committee warned that it expected such appraisals to be undertaken before contracts are signed and costs incurred in future.

The hard-hitting report will fuel criticism of the Link which, despite its cost, is still subject to delays and hold-ups. While the Link has been completed, bottle-necks still occur at its ends, on the Highway to the west and towards the A11 in the east.

An official at the Institute of Highways and Engineering said yesterday that the link had to be extended - especially in the east - before hold- ups could be eradicated. He suggested the Link could be made a priority "Red Route", like the parallel Whitechapel Road.

The Department of Transport and Docklands Corporation could have done more to put a figure on the wider benefits of the scheme, which had been touted as the reasons for its construction. For such large projects, said MPs, "departments should seek to quantify the expected economic benefits".

Once the money is spent, they should also make another study to see if those expected benefits have been achieved, to improve decision-making on future large building projects.

Some of the worst criticism was reserved for the way the construction costs spiralled, from an early estimate of pounds 141.5m in August 1988 to the figure given out after tenders had been considered, in September 1989, of pounds 227.6m. The Docklands Corporation, one of the Government's flagship urban development organisations, was accused by the MPs, the majority of whom are Conservative, of not "adequately explaining its dramatic underestimate of the expected cost".

One of the main reasons for this failing was the corporation's inability to appreciate the size of the task they were undertaking. The road was short, but it also included a tunnel with houses built immediately adjacent to the sides. In future, public bodies should put enough resources on one side when they begin large projects.

More than pounds 100m was spent on rehousing 565 families living in nearby council properties. The Corporation paid pounds 53.7m for Timber Wharves to rehouse 212 households at an average of pounds 250,000 per household.