Interim highways contract for West Sussex’s roads to be extended after legal challenge

Crackley Lane will be closed for part of next week
Crackley Lane will be closed for part of next week

With its plans to award a new highways maintenance contract stymied by a legal challenge, West Sussex County Council aims to stick with Balfour Beatty until March 2020.

Earlier this year, the council was preparing to hand the contract to Ringway Infrastructure Services Ltd following what has been described as ‘a successful procurement process’.

But a High Court challenge from rival bidder Amey brought the process to a grinding halt and led to Balfour Beatty being given an interim contract until March 2019, with the option to stretch it to June 2019.

Now the council needs to start the bidding process again.

Speaking at a meeting of the environment, communities and fire select committee on Wednesday (November 14), Matt Davey, director of highways and transport, told members that the need to extend the Balfour Beatty contract even further was to ensure maintenance for next winter could be provided.

He said: “It would have been very difficult for us to have appointed a new contractor in order to be able to deliver the winter service in 2019/20.

“In that situation we would be faced with either trying to deliver the service ourselves or continue to work with Balfour Beatty, who have been providing that service for the last seven or eight years.”

There were questions from some members about the financial consequences of the legal challenge and who, if anyone, was to blame for what had happened.

Daniel Purchese (Lib Dem, Rustington) described the situation as ‘a frankly appalling state of affairs’.

Mr Davey dismissed the idea that it had been ‘some sort of disaster’, stating that the procurement process ‘had been successful up to the point of us being challenged on the legality of what we’d done’.

He added: “We had carried out a very successful procurement process, and we got to the point of selecting our preferred candidate.

“We were within touching distance of awarding a contract, which had gone through a proper procurement process, and we were very close to actually saying this is the process, this is the contract we will award, and these are the people that we will be working with.

“The fact that a third party came along and challenged that was not a reflection of the process that we went through previously, it was a reflection of that’s the way that particular person or company operates in the market.”

At a meeting of the council’s performance and finance select committee, in October, members were told that the contract delay could mean £1.106m of savings for 2018/19 would not be delivered.

In addition, potential further costs could mean an over spend of as much as £2.5m.