Smarter Cambridge Transport

Where is the Hills Road cycleway project review?

Successful businesses are built on the maxim “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. So imagine for a moment that one of Cambridge’s world-leading businesses instituted a project which overran its budget by 40%; its timeframe by 120%; and got some really poor client satisfaction ratings. What would it do next? Well, management would want to investigate exactly what went wrong. They would ask clients for feedback and might even apologise. And above all they would want to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Now let’s look at a real-life example commissioned and implemented by Cambridgeshire County Council. The Hills Road cycleway project had an original budget of £1.2m and nine months’ duration; so far it has cost £1.7m and taken 20 months. And what are ‘management’ (County Councillors and senior officers) doing about it? The answer appears to be: as little as possible.

Readers might reasonably expect that all transport schemes are reviewed as a matter of course, to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent and objectives met. That is not the case. They might expect that, when things go as badly wrong as they have on Hills Road, a detailed evaluation would automatically be triggered. Nope. Unbelievably, it has been left to residents groups to force councillors into scrutiny of the scheme. A review has finally been agreed in principle but we are still waiting to hear any details of what will be reviewed, by whom and when.

Meanwhile, preparation continues apace for the second stage of the Hills Road cycleway, due to start in January 2017. That will be before councillors can be sure that lessons have been learnt from the first stage. Strangely, they seem to see no problem with this.

Another famous business quote is: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Residents are waiting for evidence of either from the councillors and officers overseeing the ongoing saga of Hills Road.

Sam Davies

Sam Davies is chair of the Queen Edith's Community Forum and a contributor to the Smarter Cambridge Transport conversation.

2 comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • “imagine for a moment that one of Cambridge’s world-leading businesses instituted a project which overran its budget by 40%; its timeframe by 120%; and got some really poor client satisfaction ratings. What would it do next?”

    I’ve worked on projects like that, and the answer is they hide the overspends and shuffle project managers around to avoid blame, then spend two hours on a “post mortem” meeting that doesn’t include anyone who worked on the project. Generally they’ll make a profit on the work despite the overspend. Of course, that’s if they have enough cash to pay for it; if they don’t, typically the company goes under, the directors start new companies, and they don’t even have the post mortem.

    Scrutiny on public sector projects is much greater than in the private sector, and that’s one of the reasons our public projects are so much more expensive.