A tale of two holes – and a £39m price tag

In principle, I have no objection to people digging holes in the ground. Even very expensive holes. Potholes? Bad. But lift shafts, underground tunnels and other such excavations? Good. A big hole that loops back on itself and could* end the universe? That’ll do nicely. The combination of a hole, Bernard Cribbins and Lego? Excellent.

If I had to postulate a general theory of holes, I’d say that a hole that is not used is a bad hole. And two holes that are not used are doubly bad.

Which brings me to the question of the £39 million spent on building two holes in the ground at Shepherd’s Bush station. That the holes are called lift shafts might raise your hopes. But no, the project was cancelled £39 million in, so all we are left with is two holes in the ground, unused.

In 2009 further work on the project, i.e. putting the holes to use, was “deferred indefinitely” and it has stayed that way since. The reason is a half-decent one, namely that the costs of the rest of the work had spiralled up horribly so it was better to quit at that point. But of course the fact that the costs spiralled up so massively says something about the failure of planning and management up to that stage.

So thank you Mayors Livingstone and Johnson who between them have spent £39 million on giving us two holes in the ground, unused.

Note: if you’re wondering why I’ve blogged this now, it’s because I recently heard the story via Craig Brown and Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly member whose questions unearthed the costs.

* “Could” is of course media speak for “won’t”.

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  • @ Ellie:
    I agree in principle with what you say about the rhetoric around U-turns. That has been very damaging to politics in many respects. But this is not a good place to raise this particular objection. Building projects should and can be properly planned and costed, and it should be clear in advance how much they’ll cost. It’s the job of government to get this right. If it isn’t clear what the conditions are like, the planning process should include whatever tests are necessary to avoid surprises (i.e. geological surveys to make clear what will be in the way of deep holes). Of course, there can still be unforeseen costs, but it’s a sign of major incompetence in planning and contracting if a building site spirals so out of control that it seems better to leave it unfinished after wasting £39 Million on it. One might say that the ‘U-turn’ in this case avoided even more waste – but it should never have been necessary in the first place.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 7th Sep '11 - 1:00pm

    @Frank Little

    I read this as a coded message from Mark that it is now ok for LibDems not to be Keynesians.

  • Daniel Henry 7th Sep '11 - 3:46pm

    Frank gets the award for the best joke of the day! Brilliant! 😀

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Sep '11 - 7:07pm

    It’s about time we got used to the idea that things *can’t* be predicted and started putting in place agile and reactive policy making rather than pillorying those who, rather than throwing good money after bad, conduct that most awful thing: a “U-turn”.

    To be clear: the problem here is not that they U-turned – that was the correct decision. The problem is that they spent £39m before realising that it was the correct decision. They were inexcusably late.

  • My childhood fascination with looking down holes in the road has not gone away. Do you have any photos Mark ?

  • Craig Brown 8th Sep '11 - 9:33am

    This sort of waste is fairly inexcusable, frankly. When I first tweeted about this, I put it in context of the UK space science programme. TfL have spent more money on projects in recent times which have gone nowhere than the UK annual spend on the space science programme.

    The cost of transport in London has absolutely rocketed (excuse the pun) under Boris as a result of this sort of waste, as well as to pay for his unnecessary headline-grabbing, white elephant projects – I’m mostly thinking about the wonderful thames cable car, the new Routemaster and the new Barclay’s Blue cycle lanes that bikers can’t use when it rains because they get too slippy?!

    I’m hoping (and fairly sure) that Brian and Caroline will use this strongly in their approaching campaigns. Londoners need to be informed of this sort of incompetance which costs us all hugely.

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