A council boss has demanded answers over repeated delays to the refurbishment of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel.
Since shutting for renovations in 2013 the project has missed its original deadline of 2015 and according to the latest indications won’t reopen until Christmas at least. The cost has risen to £15.5million.
The crossing opened in 1951 after taking four years to build at a cost of £833,000.
It was due to re-open in the autumn, but a report for the North East Combined Authority’s (NECA) Leadership Board has admitted this is likely to be pushed back again.
NECA’s chief finance officer Paul Woods assured members of the panel that work was ‘still on track’, South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm pushed for a more detailed update on the scheme’s progress.
Coun Malcolm said, “There are a lot of people south of the Tyne, and north, and it really isn’t fair that this has gone on so long.
“I know it’s problems with the contractors, but it seems to get lost and we really need to get this pedestrian tunnel open.”
It has now been more than five years since it was shut for renovations, installation of lifts and replacement of the tunnel’s outdated mechanical and electrical systems.
This was originally budgeted at about £6.9million, but the expected final cost has now ballooned to more than £15.5million.
Delays have dogged work on the tunnel since it began in 2013.
Progress was slowed almost immediately, following the discovery of asbestos and in 2015 the original contractor, GB Building Solutions, went into administration.
NECA then took over responsibility for the project but faced even more problems, including issues with suppliers and another contractor working on the scheme, Vaughan Engineering, also entered administration.
A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council, which is managing the project on behalf of the combined authority, said: “The work on the refurbishment of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel has unfortunately been beset by a series of issues which have resulted in a number of delays.
“Because the structure is Grade II listed there were limitations on the amount of investigative work we could undertake beforehand so this meant we did not discover some issues until work had begun.
“The foundations underneath the paving stones were rotten and there was much more asbestos in the tunnel than expected.
“As the work has progressed we have had to deal with a number of other problems, including the loss of three separate contractors – two of which have gone into administration – and a major asbestos contamination which required a specialist deep clean to be carried out throughout the tunnel lasting six months.
“This is undoubtedly a complex and challenging project but work is progressing and we are committed to completing this and bringing the tunnel back into public use.
“Once completed this will be a major transport asset to the region.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service