THE cost of improvement works outside the new John Lewis store spiralled to £450,000 over budget, the Echo can reveal.
Council leaders have revealed that the project became a race against time and costs leapt to £1.65m – compared to an original budget of £1.2m – following a series of setbacks.
The work, once started, had to be completed before the new store opened on October 12. But the city council has revealed that it originally planned to open in March next year.
Battling to complete the work, highways contractors working for Exeter City Council and Devon County Council were faced with a catalogue of setbacks beyond their control.
The problems included:
The failure of an electricity main running along one side of the store. This meant 100ft of pavement which had just been laid had to be dug up.
The discovery that utility services in Sidwell Street and New North Road were at a very shallow depth. Instead of being able to mechanically lay the surface it had to be done by hand, adding to the costs.
For safety reasons it was impossible for those working on the highway to work on the pavement next to the shop as the building contractors were there. This meant highways contractors were forced to work at the weekends and in the evenings, again leading to increased costs.
Ducting for the traffic lights was in such a poor state it had to be completely renewed.
Karime Hassan, one of Exeter's strategic directors, told the Echo: "We are working to recover some of the additional costs. When the opening day was brought forward we had the option of waiting to begin the highways work until after it had opened but if we had left it we would have had people coming to Exeter and having a bad experience because of a very busy junction in front of the store.
"Once we had started we had to get it done before the store opened because otherwise we would have ended up with the reputation of Exeter and the local authorities damaged.
"The worst case scenario is that the city council will have to find an additional £175,000, which would be funded from the New Homes Bonus which is to be used for major infrastructure."
Devon's share of the overspend will be split with £100,000 coming from Local Sustainable Transport Fund and £75,000 from the Local Transport Plan.
In December last year, Devon's cabinet approved a budget of £900,000 for the works at London Inn Square and a further £300,000 for improvements to York Road following changes to the road layout in front of John Lewis. Costs for the work are shared between the city and county councils.
By June, before the works began the costs had increased but were pegged back to £1.3m.
Paul Osborne, the city's environmental improvements officer, said: "We pared it back by taking out some planned improvements, which would have been nice to have but which were unnecessary.
"Despite all that happened the scheme was delivered on time and has created an attractive street environment which comfortably accommodates increased numbers of pedestrians and strengthens the link between the High Street and Sidwell Street."