Contractor’s defence alleges “failings” at project manager Atkins behind dispute

Contractor Bam Nuttall has filed a £43m counter-claim against Cambridgeshire Council in its deepening dispute over the construction of a £151m guided busway.

Bam Nuttall’s defence alleges serious failings on the part of consultant Atkins, the independent project manager for the scheme, which it claims attempted to create “spurious” reasons for the council to not accept completion of the project.

The court papers also show that the amount the council is claiming from Bam Nuttall has increased by £14m since it filed its £55m claim to compensate it for increased cost and the two-year project delay last August.

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway was originally due to be finished in early 2009 for a price of £116m of which £84m was to go to Bam Nuttall. In the event it was finally handed over to the council on April 21 2011 at a reported cost of £152m.

Bam’s defence of the Council’s claims maintains that delays to the project were largely not the responsibility of the contractor, and that alleged “major defects” in the construction which prevented the Council from accepting completion of the project were not significant enough to prevent use.

Regarding the Southern section of the line specifically, Bam Nuttall states that Atkins’ lead on the project “sought to delay the date on which he would be obliged to decide that completion had occurred by creating a series of spurious contractual disputes.”

It says that despite being employed as an “independent” project manager, Atkins “failed to act independently and fairly”, acting instead “for the sole benefit of the council.” These amounted to “serious and numerous” failings, the defence alleges.

A spokesperson for Atkins said: “We were engaged as the independent administrator on the Cambridge Busway scheme and we are confident that we always acted in the best interests of the project. We are unable to discuss any details at this stage due to the on-going legal action.”

It is understood an NEC2 target price construction contract was agreed for the works. Cambridgeshire County Council says that during construction this requires the Council to pay the actual cost of the work. However, at the end of the construction period the difference between the actual cost and the final target cost is split between the parties in accordance with a formula set in the contract.

Nuttall denies the £54.7m claimed by the council is due, and says it itself is owed £43.1m.

Bob Menzies, Cambridgeshire County Council’s head of infrastructure delivery, said the council had obtained extensive advice on the Busway contract and remained confident of its position. He said: “Bam’s documents will now be reviewed in detail by the Council’s legal team.

“It would be inappropriate for us to make any further comment until we have reviewed BAM’s defence and counterclaim and prepared and provided our formal response, which will be submitted to the court in due course.”