Revealed: anger as Crossrail 'blunder boss' wins new role in another major public project

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The former chief executive of the late and over-budget Crossrail project has quietly been given oversight for another of the country’s biggest infrastructure programmes, the multi-billion pound revamp of the Palace of Westminster estate.

Campaigners and some sources close to the project said the appointment of Simon Wright made a mockery of claims the government was striving to keep costs down on the sprawling job. 

Originally planned to cost around 

£4 billion, those close to the scheme suspect the true bill for taxpayers will be far higher and subject to major delays. Neil Gray MP, a member of the joint committee for the Palace of Westminster, has publicly stated it could cost “billions more”. Work is slated to start in the mid-2020s.

Sources said Wright’s role is to oversee the estatewide “engineering infrastructure resilience programme”, whose responsibilities range from restoring parliament’s buildings to developing the strategy to make them carbon neutral by 2050.

His responsibilities on the Strategic Estates team will include keeping on track construction of the temporary debating chamber for MPs, set to cost up to £800 million of taxpayers’ money.

Wright adds the role to his existing one to the board of the organisation overseeing the restoration and renewal project. He got that job last July, four months before he left Crossrail amid shock news of delays which meant the government had to lend the project a further £350 million. He had been appointed as programme director of Crossrail in 2014 and was promoted to CEO for just eight months before stepping down and reluctantly giving up his bonus.

One source close to the work said: “The Palace of Westminster will be complex enough without bringing the legacy of a failed programme into the mix. Many MPs, not to mention industry, will question whether the ex-Crossrail CEO can be trusted with this iconic project.”

The Taxpayers’ Alliance chief executive John O’Connell said: “Taxpayers should be seriously concerned that one of the key architects of the Crossrail debacle is now overseeing the multi-billion pound restoration of the Palace of Westminster.” O’Connell was particularly concerned about having a repeat of where Crossrail failed to keep the Mayor’s Transport for London and the Department of Transport informed about how badly wrong the project was going. 

The situation could be even worse at the Parliament project, he said, because it did not have a government department sponsoring it.

It is unusual for such massive public infrastructure works to have no government department taking responsibility as sponsor of the project, unlike, say, the Department for Transport on HS2 and Defra and Local Government and Communities on the Thames Tideway supersewer. 

For that reason, a so-called “shadow” sponsor body was created, made up of MPs and experts. O’Connell warned: “With the restoration programme lacking external sponsors entirely, the stage seems set for yet another failure, again, under Wright’s direction.”

Others counter that Wright is ideal for the role. While Crossrail has been plagued by delays, the career civil engineer has run Arup’s project management business in the UK and Europe and was hailed a success for his work on the Olympics. 

In that project, acclaimed for being on budget and on time, he was on the Olympic Delivery Authority responsible for design and delivery of all infrastructure on the Olympic Park and the operations of the venues and athletes’ village during the Games. A House of Commons spokesman said: “Simon Wright has been an independent member of the restoration and renewal shadow sponsor board since its establishment in 2018, when he was appointed following a fair and open recruitment process. 

“He has recently begun working as an adviser to the Strategic Estates team in Parliament.”

Those working on the projects said while he was technically an adviser at Strategic Estates, he was “effectively running the show”.

Taxpayers and MPs will be hoping Wright delivers a repeat of the Olympics build, rather than another Crossrail. fiasco.



Renovating the Houses of Parliament

The Palace, designed by Augustus Pugin and Charles Barry and built in the mid-1800s, urgently requires restoration. 

While the work is going on, the Lords will decamp to the nearby QEII Centre. MPs have opted not to use existing buildings due to security and other concerns. Instead, they have decided a temporary debating chamber must be put up in a building in Whitehall called Richmond House. This is the key building among several to be revamped along Whitehall and Parliament Street known as the Northern Estate

The Richmond House job is set to cost taxpayers £800 million despite potentially only being used as a debating chamber for six or seven years.


The contractors

BDP is lead designer on the Northern Estate. Programme, project and cost management is being done by WSP and Gleeds. Wates is the main works contracting partner. Mace is project manager for Richmond House, with Lendlease the main contractor. CH2M, now owned by Jacobs, is leading on programme, project and cost management.

Strategic Estates

This is the organisation maintaining and improving the buildings of the Parliamentary Estate. Its Project Delivery Team is in charge of all construction and conservation projects. Simon Wright is said to be taking on the role of senior responsible officer. 

Restoration and Renewal Team

This is the group under Strategic Estates which is managing the restoration and revamping of the Palace of Westminster. It is under the control of a group known as a shadow board for now, until legislation establishes it as a standalone organisation. Wright is the sole civil engineer on the board made up of MPs, lords and other grandees.

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December 5, 2019 |
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