Opinion: CHORD delayed by drainage, lights – and designs

Lack of design information is one of the reasons why the CHORD work on Helensburgh’s seafront fell behind schedule, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

The October meeting of the project board was held almost entirely behind closed doors, with Argyll and Bute Council saying contracts were affected so documents had to remain private.

But now a heavily redacted version of the agenda has been released after an FOI request, and appears publicly here for the first time.

It reveals that at the end of August contractors Maclay’s were given extra time ‘because of drainage, ground conditions, lighting and provision of design information’.

Governance,lighting and project highlights were discussed in private
Governance,lighting and project highlights were discussed in private

This is despite the design team from consulting engineers O’Connor Sutton Cronin telling the council three years earlier that they had examined the drainage issue.

A position paper by the firm dated August 2010 stated: “Enhancing the flood defences along the West Bay Esplanade is outside of the scope of the Helensburgh CHORD project and the design team’s remit

“The design team are aware of the issues associated with the site and their design will take due cognisance of the conditions to which the esplanade is subjected.

“The design proposals will not exacerbate the current issues and where possible will aim to reduce the problem through increased drainage provision along West Clyde Street to help drain flood water away more effectively

“The design, materials and street furniture have all been assessed to ensure they take account of the adverse weather conditions.”

The design paper is available here: West Bay Flooding Summary

Indeed, as far back as June 2010 the council drew up a 42-page report on potential improvements to the sea wall, including options and for the work and likely costs.

So why did it take three years for a decision to be made on this?

Redacted costs
Nothing to see – some sections were completely erased

The street lighting section of last month’s agenda is very heavily redacted, with the sequence of events which led to the council changing the original design this autumn being completely erased, including the costs.

With reference to the Christmas lights, the report refers to meetings with an unnamed ‘community lighting representative’ and concludes: “Changes have been made to the Helensburgh CHORD scheme in terms of street lighting, festive lighting and the provision of event power and wi-fi points.

“These additional works are considered to be of benefit to the community of Helensburgh.”

Again – and without wishing to seem churlish, since the lights which were switched on last weekend do look very good – since Christmas happens at regular intervals and every year, it seems very odd that this was incorporated at such a late stage, rather than being decided before the start of work.

The project board is due to meet again tomorrow (Wednesday), again behind closed doors.

It’s a bit ironic that after choosing to remove the town’s community council and chamber of commerce from its membership the board has had such trouble getting people to turn up for meetings.

And the latest revelations mean that the lack of board meetings – none at all were held for period of ten months – is all the more surprising.

West Clyde Street is still not completely finished, and many months of work lie ahead for the esplanade – which has always been so popular for a seaside stroll but now looks more like a First World War battlefield.

We all hope the CHORD works will finish on time, and that they will give Helensburgh’s town centre a boost which it badly needs, but the picture which is starting to emerge does not bode well.

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