Sea defences legal claim withdrawn

The sea defence scheme along Royal Albert Drive as the work was being carried out
The sea defence scheme along Royal Albert Drive as the work was being carried out

SCARBOROUGH Council has reached an agreement with its former consultants to withdraw legal proceedings in relation to the controversial Marine Drive sea defences – a scheme that went nearly £25 million over budget.

In 2010 the council’s cabinet authorised pursuit of negligence proceedings against High Point Rendel, who were employed to advise the council on the scheme, which included a new sea wall and rock armour. The cabinet also voted to accept the £1.3 million from the Environment Agency to meet legal costs.

However, Ian Anderson, Scarborough Council’s head of legal and support services, said yesterday: “Between March 2002 and July 2005 Scarborough Council undertook repair work and the construction of sea defences to the East Pier and Marine Drive in Scarborough. The scheme costs significantly exceeded the grant originally provided.

“The majority of the additional costs incurred in undertaking the scheme were met through contingency funds made available by DEFRA, pending an audit of whether the increase in costs was justified.

“Following the completion of the works Scarborough Council received robust expert and legal advice, which supported the pursuit of legal action against High Point Rendel to recover at least some of the additional costs incurred.

“As a result of this advice, the council initiated proceedings to recover costs. Within those proceedings High Point Rendel received equally robust expert and legal advice.

“The parties’ respective experts met in April and May this year and it became clear that there were significant differences of opinion between them. It was also clear that significant expenditure would need to be incurred by both parties to litigate the matter fully.

“Following on from those meetings a mediation meeting was arranged between the parties earlier this month to enable them to consider whether a mutually acceptable way forward could be arrived at. At that meeting both parties ultimately agreed that the proceedings be withdrawn with no admission of liability and each party bearing its own costs.”

The scandal surrounding Scarborough’s sea defences is one of the biggest ever to rock the Town Hall.

It was revealed in December 2004 when the Audit Commission revealed the council had broken the law in the way it awarded consultant’s contracts, wrote a bogus report to justify the appointment of preferred bidder High Point Rendel and kept councillors in the dark when the problems started to come to light.

It also found High Point Rendel had doubled its charges for advising on the sea defence work from £1.2 million to £2.4 million and council lawyers had raised concerns the company had effectively been “handed a blank cheque”.

Calls were made for a public inquiry by councillors and the then Scarborough MP Lawrie Quinn.

An ill-fated public investigation led by former headteacher of Raincliffe School Michael Goode was set up, but called off a few minutes into its first proper meeting amid claims it could prejudice a disciplinary investigation into officers’ actions carried out by Richard Penn, author of what has become known as The Penn Report.

Contractor Edmund Nuttall Ltd, which built the sea defences, originally said the scheme would cost £27 million. But it encountered a number of unexpected problems when it started to do the work, which led to a series of delays and an increase in costs.