Trams troubleshooter to help flood prevention

Phase one of the flood prevention scheme took place around Stockbridge. Picture: Greg Macvean
Phase one of the flood prevention scheme took place around Stockbridge. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A HIGHLY regarded troubleshooter who hauled Edinburgh’s cursed tram line back on track has been parachuted in to rescue the wobbly flood prevention project for the Water of Leith.

Chartered engineer Rob Leech was drafted into the city’s tram team months after a breakthrough in heated mediation talks with contractor Bilfinger Berger allowed the works to proceed.

Mr Leech, who previously spearheaded the £1 billion Metro North underground in Dublin, helped turn the stricken tram scheme around and has been poached by council chiefs to oversee the proposed £25 million flood prevention works due to take place in the west of the city.

It is understood works will be scaled back from the original plans after contractual disputes and huge cost over-runs plagued the first phase of the project in Stockbridge and Canonmills. Costs for the initial phase reportedly soared from around £18m to £30m.

Now he will scrutinise the next section of the works as the council’s appointed project manager.

Described as “an excellent communicator”, Mr Leech has invaluable experience leading “large, complex capital projects” and “dealing with senior civil servants and political representatives”.

In scenes reminiscent of the tram saga, the city now must plug a £7m shortfall in funding for phase two of the Water of Leith flood prevention works. Environment chiefs say this deficit will have to be found in the existing capital budget.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s environment convener, said “lessons had been learned” from the mismanaged first stage of the project and welcomed the appointment.

She said: “In some ways, it’s really important we don’t just jump into phase two and actually learn the lessons of phase one in order to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“The governance structures weren’t there, there weren’t enough people scrutinising and keeping an eye on the project to ensure what the expenditure 
was and also the design. It’s important to get the design right before you actually put the project out to contact. There were a lot of changes happened after that, like what happened with the trams.

“One of the major issues we had was that there was an over-reliance on the external project management company and so what we are doing is appointing a council project manager. We have someone that we know is really good and oversaw the tram project ensuring it was delivered on a revised budget.”

Like the tram project, it is not yet known when phase two works will begin or conclude.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com