Bath and North-East Somerset council (Banes) may take more than three months to decide whether or not to hand the troubled Bath Spa project over to contractor Mowlem

The contractor last week offered to take over the project for a flat rate of £26m and deliver it by the end of July. But it has claimed that the council told them that it would not be able to make a decision for at least three months because of public sector procedures.

In a statement, the contractor said: “During discussions with Banes on 2 February 2005, they indicated that under normal circumstances it would take approximately three months to get a decision to agree on Mowlem’s proposals. However, with the likelihood of elections, this could take longer.”

Banes head of major projects John Betty and Mowlem managing director Chris Pape met last week to discuss a way forward on the scheme for the first time. This prompted a more optimistic joint statement from the two sides.

It said: “The meeting was positive and significant and both parties are hopeful common ground can be found and that a solution can move forward.”

A Banes spokesperson confirmed that most council decisions usually required three months to process, but said it was trying to speed up the decision on the Spa.

However the new atmosphere of co-operation has been threatened by a bitter political row between Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat local MP, and construction minister Nigel Griffiths.

It would normally take about three months. With the election, it could take longer

Mowlem statement

Last week Griffiths told Building that Banes was “the client from hell” and slammed its handling of the affair. Both Foster and Banes chief John Everitt sent letters to Griffiths demanding he apologise for his unguarded comments.

Foster has also questioned whether Mowlem’s offer is a good deal, contradicting the advice of Griffiths, who last week recommended that Banes take up Mowlem’s offer.

Foster said: “Mowlem originally quoted £11m to build the Spa. The council has now paid them £14.5m. An offer to finish the job for £26m – and drop all claims against them – is one that doesn’t look likely to offer good value for money.”

A Banes spokesperson said Foster was a political figure and could not comment on whether the council agrees with his analysis of Mowlem’s offer.

The project faced further difficulties as Mowlem claimed that some of the cracks in the steam room floor were opening and closing, and called on architect Grimshaw to undertake an initial report into the problem by today.