Bridge over troubled water binned … again

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HOW much does it cost to not build a bridge? About $54,000, if the bridge is not built over Kananook Creek.

That’s how much money Frankston Council spent on bridge designs and legal advice before deciding not to replace a bridge at Beckwith Grove in Seaford.

Councillors in the previous four-year council term initially decided not to rebuild the bridge, demolished in early 2016 amid safety concerns, then bowed to pressure from nearby residents who wanted the Beckwith Grove bridge built to push ahead with the reinstatement of the bridge.

Councillors at the 25 September public council meeting unanimously voted to axe plans to rebuild the bridge when it became apparent it would cost between $400,000-$700,000 to rebuild the bridge against an initial estimate of $180,000.

North-West ward councillor Kris Bolam, elected to council last November, said at the meeting that disability access requirements and modern public safety provisions made the bridge rebuild too costly.

Cr Bolam revealed initial design works did not take wheelchair access into account when budgeting the project at $180,000.

“Design works at a substantial cost were done but we later found out that disability access hadn’t been included on those design works,” he said.

“There was an unfortunate misspend of ratepayers’ money in terms of those costs.”

Deputy mayor Cr Steve Toms praised North-West ward councillors Bolam, Lillian O’Connor and Glenn Aitken for taking all Frankston ratepayers into consideration when making “the difficult decision” not to rebuild the bridge.

“The three North-West ward councillors are, of course, apologetic — this is a hangover from the last council but I think they are being very responsible with ratepayers’ money.”

Cr Aitken said it was “a regrettable outcome” but he said the previous council “in good faith” made a decision “based on the information we were given” about the bridge cost about $180,000.

In addition to the disability access needs, Cr Aitken said he has been informed Melbourne Water has “some very particular requirements regarding water flow in the creek”.

He noted the original bridge was was “narrow” but “time has moved on”.

A council officers’ report tabled at the council meeting noted council could be hit with a “case for ‘unjustifiable hardship’ should the council resolve the bridge be constructed without access for people with disabilities and a complaint of discrimination be lodged”.

Cr O’Connor said she supported the bridge being rebuilt at a cost of about $180,000.

“I’m really sad it’s come to this way but unfortunately this is in the best interests of the community … this is the best decision.”

Councillors backed a Cr Bolam notice of motion to instruct council CEO Dennis Hovenden to “install a checks-and-balances process to prevent the expenditure of public monies on conceptual designs that do not take into account the full scope of required works (i.e. disability access, public safety, statutory specifications etc)”.

“I think this should be a cautionary tale moving ahead,” Cr Bolam said.

“The spectre of disability and public safety additions on bridges are only going to further inflate costs into the future.

“In this case it really has been a case of ‘a bridge to nowhere’ and while it’s disappointing the financial management of the city is tantamount.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 9 October 2017

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