A LONG-AWAITED £647m project to repair all roads, streetlights and pavements in Sheffield is starting to slip.
While the number of potholes increases as a result of the severe weather last December, a delay of at least six months is expected as the Government asks for savings to be made to produce a more efficient scheme.
Liberal Democrat council leaders believe that everything is still on track for Sheffield to benefit from the much-heralded Private Finance Initiative but Labour MPs are accusing the Coalition Government of letting down the city again.
After being drawn up and promoted by the previous Labour council, the Sheffield project was approved by the Coalition last autumn, along with similar initiatives in Birmingham and on the Isle of Wight.
Now the authorities are under pressure to demonstrate greater efficiency. Sheffield believes it has already proved that it will offer value for money but is looking to chip at administration costs without affecting the actual repairs. In a long and exhaustive tendering process, two companies are battling to get the contract.
It had been hoped that a start could be made this summer on tackling the backlog of maintenance work after many years of complaints about the condition of local roads. That slipped to autumn and now it looks as though nothing will be done until the spring of 2012 at the earliest.
Local Labour leader Coun Julie Dore, said: “We’re extremely disappointed that Sheffield people have been let down again by the Lib Dems. First Forgemasters and now this. Labour secured the highways PFI in 2008 to provide over £600m to improve Sheffield’s roads and pavements.
“It should be starting on time, as planned, in September this year – local people have waited long enough. Coun Scriven said that he would stand up for Sheffield on this issue but both he and Nick Clegg are failing Sheffield yet again.”
Labour MP Paul Blomfield, who represents Sheffield Central, said: “The state of the roads in Sheffield was bad enough before the winter and the situation is clearly much more serious now. Any delay is extremely disappointing – the Government is letting Sheffield down yet again.”
Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith added: “This is a poor show by the Coalition. Local Government needs certainty on projects like this. Also, the longer it takes for work to get started more intermediate work to repair the roads is going to be required, so delaying the scheme to find efficiency savings could be a false economy.”
Lib Dem council leader Paul Scriven, who has told Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that the highways PFI issue is a top priority for the city, said: “We are protecting the scheme. The Government has, quite rightly, asked councils to look at their costs.
“Sheffield is prepared to discuss the with the Government but we want to make efficiencies without reducing the scope of the programme or its quality.
“Because we are taking this stance, things are taking slightly longer. The project will not be withdrawn. However, the delay is likely to be around six months.”