Questions over preparation work ahead of Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel refurbishment
Bosses on a transport committee have demanded to know how workmen could have underestimated the extent of water damage to a 69-year-old tunnel running under the River Tyne.
Refurbishment of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel is running years behind schedule and millions of pounds over budget after a spate of delays and mishaps.
And while a new report has shed light on issues which affected the scheme, questions have been asked why several problems, such as the discovery of hazardous building materials, were not discovered before tradesmen moved on-site.
“What pre work was actually carried out before this started?,” asked Northumberland county councillor Mark Swinburn.
“[The tunnel] was constructed at a time when asbestos was a material widely and readily used and its location seems obvious to most that it would be subject to water ingress and therefore deterioration.
“What level of pre-work or inspection was carried out, or not carried out, before this was commenced?
“It was a one-year £6.5 million project which escalated to epic proportions, has taken six years, is still not complete and has tripled in cost.”
Cllr Swinburn was speaking at this week’s (Wednesday, December 9) meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Audit Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.
The river crossing originally opened in 1951, but by 2008 was in a ‘dilapidated state’, with lifts and escalators regularly out of order and water ingress ‘evident throughout the tunnels’.
At one point during the refurbishment project work ground to a halt for about 18 months after the main contractor went into administration.
And according to Tyne Tunnels Manger Fiona Bootle this may have made existing problems with asbestos worse after staff ‘walked off site and just left it’, following the firm’s collapse.
Speaking to the committee, Bootle, who started in the job this year (2020), insisted lessons had been learned, while also rejecting claims previous assessments of the state of the tunnel had been ‘wholly inadequate’.
She added: “I think if it was done again it would be done with greater contingency, given it is such an old and bespoke structure – there’s not really another one like it.”