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Aoki-Soletanche 'close to a settlement' on troubled contracts Tunneller in £115m JLE claim

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JUBILEE Line Extension tunnelling joint venture Aoki-Soletanche is close to settling a £115 million claim on two of the project's most trouble-torn anddelayed contracts.

The Japanese-French joint venture has been locked in debate with the JLE over the mammoth claim for three years.

But it is now confident that a deal to resolve the outstanding claims on contracts 103 and 105 is in sight.

Inside sources put the likely settlement figure at more than £90 million.

It means that contracts 103 and 105, which had a combined tender value of £131 million, could eventually cost the taxpayer more than £220 million. The claims cover work on 10.4 km of tunnelling plus two Underground stations - at Southwark and Bermondsey. Both jobs finished about 18 months late.

Jean Pierre Lamoure, president of French geotechnical contractor Soletanche- Bachy, said: 'The difference between us has been reduced from £50 million to£28 million and final settlement is anticipated within a month or two. But the possibility of litigation cannot yet be ruled out.'

A Jubilee Line Extension spokesperson said the company was 'in the process of dealing with claims', but that these were 'commercially confidential'.

Contractor sources said the claims had arisen out of 'much worse than expected' groundconditions. Major problems occurred while excavating Southwark station's escalator tunnels and ventilation shafts directly beneath an old brick rail viaduct which the JLE follows to London Bridge. Extensive ground treatment and compensation grouting was needed when it was discovered viaduct foundations were shallower than expected.

The contracts were the last to be carried out by Soletanche in its own right, which is now being wound up as a separate company.

But Soletanche managing director David Sherwood denied suggestions that its closure was a consequence of the JLE work.

He said: 'The decision to close the firm was made over two years ago when Soletanche merged with Bachy. We were simply waiting to complete outstanding Soletanche contracts, including the JLE.'

According to Mr Sherwood,Soletanche's final year of trading, ending this month, will return a pre-tax profit 'exceeding £2 million'.