The Scottish transport secretary has criticised the joint venture building the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route after a further delay to the project was announced.
In a special statement to the Scottish Parliament, MSP Michael Matheson revealed that the £745m project would not open this autumn and was now targeting a December opening, but that no firm date could be given.
The SNP politician also accused Galliford Try chief executive Peter Truscott of “inconsistency” in his communication with the minister over the AWPR’s progress.
Mr Matheson’s claims centred on Transport Scotland’s efforts to open a 31.5 km section of the road from Stonehaven to Craibstone and Charlestown.
The opening of this stretch is outside the original agreement and requires a variation to the contract between Transport Scotland and the Aberdeen Roads JV delivering the bypass, comprising Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try.
In addition, contractual changes also require agreement from the project’s lenders.
Mr Matheson told the Scottish Parliament he had met earlier this week with Mr Truscott, whom the minister said had given the “clear indication” that the JV was making the necessary contract changes to allow the 31.5 km section to open.
However, Mr Matheson said he had subsequently received a letter [yesterday morning] from the Galliford boss suggesting the JV was yet to agree a deal with lenders or “advise its lenders about the draft terms”, which the MSP claimed had “been on the table for a considerable time”.
This, he said, was “despite verbal assurances to the contrary on Monday”.
The transport secretary said the “inconsistency [was] frustrating efforts to open the section” of the bypass and called on the contractor to make progress.
“It’s now time for the contractor to stop deliberating and start acting,” Mr Matheson told the Scottish Parliament.
“It now has to take the necessary steps for the opening of this road.”
He then said he had asked the JV for “unequivocal confirmation that agreement is being progressed and when it will be concluded”.
Galliford Try has been contacted for comment.
The troubled AWPR project has been beset by delays, having originally been scheduled to complete in spring 2017.
In December 2016 the Balmedie-to-Tipperty section was put back until late 2017, before further delays shifted final completion to spring 2018 and then autumn.
Explaining the reasons behind the scheme’s latest delay, Mr Matheson noted that in May the contractor had reported a technical issue on the new bridge over the River Don.
Minor defects were identified while post-tensioning a small number of concrete panels.
However, the minister told the Scottish Parliament these issues had subsequently proved more extensive than initially recognised, albeit in a localised area of the structure for which repairs have continued alongside construction work.
Mr Matheson revealed that on 26 October Transport Scotland was informed that a greater scope was necessary to repair the defects.
He said the contractor had undertaken a “full investigation” into these defects, which had been the subject of rigorous “independent challenge”.
The costs of the repairs lay with the JV and would not come from the public purse, he added.
However, he also revealed that the contractor had launched a claim in relation to the project, not related to the issue at the Don bridge.
The minister said he could not provide a definitive date for the opening of this section, as there were a number of factors such as the weather that could delay progress.
“Contractors are often ambitious with their targets to motivate and challenge the workforce,” he said.
“But as events transpired, a more cautious view has proved correct.”
Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try said they were unable to comment directly due to the partnering nature of the project.