Cornwall Council announced it had commissioned internal and external reviews into the failed Saints Trails Cycle Routes project which has been described as ‘an absolute disaster’.
The Saints Trails was a major scheme for the council and aimed to create four new multi-user trails covering 30km through Cornwall. When first announced it was hailed as the next Camel Trail – the successful trail that links Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow, but advisers are now describing it as ‘an absolute disaster’.
The council were forced to cut the scheme by £19million after failing to secure the required land and going over time and over budget.
Concerns had been raised about the project in January 2021 after the board’s audit committee was told it was to go over budget by £6m and was unlikely to be delivered to weather. However, council director Phil Mason personally assured that the project could be delivered on time and within budget.
However, in October the council announced that it had to scale back the project due to budget pressures and removed two of the four trails that were to be created. And in February the council revealed further cuts would have to be made with a proposed footpath linking Perranporth to Newquay amended to run from Perranporth to Goonhavern.
The whole project was to be mainly funded by government grants with £17 million coming from Highways England and the rest of the money coming from the council. However, the council admitted that they had encountered problems securing the land needed for the trails.
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Councilors in Cornwall had called for a full investigation into what went wrong, with some asking for a ‘warts and all’ report to be delivered. At a meeting of the audit committee on Friday May 6, it was revealed that two reviews had now been commissioned by the board.
Armand Toms, chairman of the committee, said: “An internal lessons learned exercise is underway and an external lessons learned review will also take place. Louis Gardner, Chair of the Economic Growth and Development Monitoring and Review Committee, agreed that his committee would participate in this work.
“Informal sessions will be held in the near future so that officers can consult with the committee on the draft scope of the review.”
Cllr Toms said that once the terms of reference for the review have been agreed, the external review will be formally commissioned and the findings of this review will be presented to the audit committee. He added that the results of both reviews would be formally reported to the Economic Growth and Development Review and Review Committee.
The audit committee was told it would then receive a full report based on the findings of the review committee – which is expected to be presented at its November meeting. Cllr Toms said the audit committee could then choose to report to the Cabinet of the Council on the recommendations resulting from the reviews.
Audit committee member John Conway asked if the board had put in place better processes following the Saints Trails to ensure that other major projects did not fail as well.
He said: “We learned a lot from the Saints Trails, it was an absolute disaster, we know that. With projects such as Langarth and Pydar Street, will members be notified rather than waiting for something to go wrong? »
Tracie Langley, the council’s chief operating officer, said the council is looking to work more closely with local people on major projects.
“The learning we’ve learned from the Saints Trails and our engagement with local areas and our engagement on some of these larger projects is really important, it’s one of the biggest areas where we need to improve. Myself and my colleagues are looking at how to improve in this area. »
However, Ms Langley admitted it would require a ‘change in the way we work’ and the culture within council to ensure they work more closely with local councilors and local areas when delivering major projects.
She added: “The key part of that is working locally with local members and local people because that’s important and we have to remember that in everything we do and not just on these big projects.”
Steve Arthur, Cornwall councilor for Perranporth, asked if the council had ‘made a profit’ from the Saints Trails. Ms Langley said the council had made no profit and all funds received for the project had been used to deliver the parts which were still being planned.