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A bridge too far? The inside story of the road scheme that divided a city

In the first part of Noteworthy’s investigation, we reveal the cost of the bridge more than doubled while Kilkenny County Council paid €7 million for two buildings in the centre of Kilkenny that are now valued at just €400,000.

IT HAS BEEN one of the most controversial road projects of the past decade in Ireland.

The St Francis Bridge in Kilkenny was opened in 2017 after protests, a court case, and massive cost overruns.

The campaign has left deep scars in a city where around 10,000 people signed a petition in 2014 opposing its construction, and recommending an outer ring road of Kilkenny be completed instead.

Two years after the inner route was completed, the ring road is a pipe dream which ran into legal difficulties with its planning permission being quashed by the High Court at the start of this year. The St Francis Bridge now provides a direct route for cars and heavy vehicles right through the so-called Medieval Mile of Kilkenny, splitting St Canice’s Cathedral from the rest of the city.

  • This is the first in a three-part series following an in-depth Noteworthy investigation which will be published over the coming days. 

Supporters say it has eased traffic in Kilkenny and opened up a large swathe of land – a former brewery site now called the Abbey Quarter – in the city for development. Opponents point to how little progress there has been on the Abbey Quarter site, how plans have not been delivered upon, and the presence of construction material that remains in the river.

For the past two months, Noteworthy has been investigating this project, the background to it, its impact, and the lessons that can be learned. 

The newly built St Francis Bridge in Kilkenny with Green's Bridge in the background Source: Maria Delaney via Noteworthy

As part of our investigation, we can reveal how:

  • In the days leading up to the signing of the contract in June 2014, Kilkenny County Council confirmed publicly it was in “advanced” discussions with a major international services company to bring 500 jobs to the Abbey Quarter site adjoining the bridge road scheme. It said another 500 jobs might soon follow though it warned that the council did not have the resources to fund the proposed developments. These jobs have not yet materialised.
  • In 2007, at the height of the Celtic Tiger property boom, the county council paid €7 million for two buildings in the centre of Kilkenny to develop a new city library. They’ve since decided to develop the library on the site adjoining the bridge as part of their Abbey Quarter masterplan. They have no concrete plans for the other buildings however … and the most recent valuation report provided to the Council, and obtained by Noteworthy, shows their valuation has collapsed to just €400,000.
  • The county council signed off on the contract for the bridge on June 10, 2014. The following day, the county manager Joe Crockett wrote a letter seeking permission from the government to leave his job in Kilkenny and join the National Pension Reserve Fund, where he had been offered a position to help develop the Abbey Quarter site beside the bridge. Satisfied that there was no conflict of interest, he was granted permission, and worked on the project for well over a year.
  • An official review of the project said that funding, including €2.7 million in “government grants” is “to be provided” for the bridge’s construction. However, a year earlier the government had made clear in parliamentary questions that there was no money for this type of project and no further government funding ever materialised. Apparently, the Council had relied on the re-introduction of a specific non-national road grant funding, which never happened.
  • Cost overruns have seen the price of the project spiral from early estimates of less than €10 million to just over €20 million, with the final bill still to be confirmed.
  • A total of €9.9 million worth of contracts have been given by Kilkenny County Council since 2012 which did not comply with a formal tendering process or where no competitive process was applied. This is according to reports from the local government auditor. The council has said they’ve been proactive in the procurement area and have tackled all the issues raised in the reports.

A bridge built for “ass and cart”

Illustration of Green_s Bridge 2014 Illustration of possible refurbishment of Green's Bridge which was part of CAS public display in October 2014 Source: Kilkenny County Council

Green’s Bridge is more than 250 years old and was built – as Kilkenny mayor Martin Brett puts it – with an “ass and cart” in mind. It was considered seriously “deficient” and the city’s new bridge – the Central Access Scheme – was supposed to take the pressure off it.

On your average day in Kilkenny, there is a steady flow of tractors, lorries, and cars still using Green’s Bridge to cross the River Nore.

The bridge is so narrow that two HGVs cannot cross the bridge if coming from different sides at the same time, while pedestrians are corralled off on a narrow strip of tarmac behind guard rails. It is intimidating to cross in the rain as vehicles whizz by and any cyclists hoping to come this way would need to be brave to face the almost relentless traffic.

Not 150 metres downstream is the St Francis Bridge, just two years old. Nobody would ever call it beautiful. It is the very definition of functional.

There were originally more intricate designs for it, cable-stayed bridges that would have added a touch of modernity to this most medieval of Irish cities. They were considered inappropriate and ruled out by An Bord Pleanála.

The St Francis Bridge is specifically designed to be unobtrusive but that’s not quite true either. From John’s Bridge, the river crossing beside the castle, familiar to most of Kilkenny’s visitors, it’s not terribly easy to see and from that distance, it would be hard to tell what all the fuss has been about. On Green’s Bridge however, as you look downstream towards Kilkenny Castle, four bare concrete pillars are conspicuous as they drive deep into the bed of the River Nore.

What’s most noticeable though is the fact that traffic on the old bridge is still busy.

In the two and a half years prior to the bridge opening, Kilkenny County Council only undertook a single traffic count on the city’s two main river crossings.

In October 2016, average daily traffic on Green’s Bridge was 15,271, with no count taken of how many heavy goods vehicles that involved.

There have been several counts with fluctuating results since. In September 2017, the traffic level on the bridge was still 15,529 while the count for the recently opened St Francis Bridge was 11,600. Another check in November of that year showed traffic on all three bridges was almost identical, at around 11,000 each.

Only two traffic surveys have taken place since (December 2017 and September 2018), both on Green’s Bridge with traffic of around 10,000 vehicles – 4% of which was heavy goods – still using the old route at last count.

Since Noteworthy began this investigation, the local authority has now committed to carrying out new traffic counts on all three river crossings.

BrIdge Road Cars crossing St Francis Bridge with St Canice's Cathedral in background Source: Maria Delaney via Noteworthy

On the new bridge – nearly 17 metres wide – cars and trucks move slowly, almost processionally. They have no choice because there are large speed bumps on either end. Bizarrely, Green’s Bridge – only half as wide – has no such measures to slow traffic down. It was, by this stage, supposed to have been restored to its former glory, heavy goods and agricultural vehicles permanently removed.

Even ambulances still use the old bridge because according to Kilkenny County Council it is the designated “HSE emergency route” in the area.

In reports leading up to the Central Access Scheme, Kilkenny County Council repeatedly pointed out the deficiencies of the bridge for traffic and especially cyclists.

Their statement of evidence to an An Bord Pleanála hearing said Green’s Bridge was “critically deficient”.

“The Council intends to restore this bridge and ban heavy goods vehicles if the proposed scheme is approved,” they said.

Neither of these things has yet happened.

It is still mostly business as usual. Kilkenny County Council has banned heavy goods vehicles from crossing east to west but that rule is loosely observed at best and gardaí are responsible for its enforcement. Signs on the city side of the ancient bridge also still direct trucks in its direction rather than pointing them towards the new crossing.

Absolutely nothing has been done to renovate the bridge and traffic still zooms by at all hours of the day and night. “Green’s Bridge restoration [and] refurbishment is still under consideration,” said the council in an official statement.

It is just one in a series of broken promises from a project where there have been many.

The jobs announcement 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

It was 3 June 2014 and Kilkenny County Council had some exciting news to share.

They were on the verge of confirming 500 jobs for the Abbey Quarter site right next to where the St Francis Bridge would cross the Nore. According to the council, a “major international services” company wanted to move in the following year with the possibility of another 500 jobs to follow. In any part of Ireland, the prospect of 1,000 jobs would be incredibly significant. In a city the size of Kilkenny, it would have been a game changer.

This was not the first time new jobs had been promised for the Abbey Quarter, formerly home to the Smithwick’s Brewery. County Manager Joe Crockett had flagged the previous November that three major companies had expressed an interest in moving in.

The level of interest was he said “unprecedented”, their calls directly following local newspaper articles about plans for the development of what was now being called the “Abbey Creative Quarter”.

The latest announcement was even more specific though and the county council was so certain of their arrival that they issued a press release.

“The proposal to establish on the Smithwick’s site a major international services company with some 500 jobs is very advanced though not finalised, with real prospects of a further 500 jobs,” Mr Crockett told councillors. The jobs were contingent on the bridge project going ahead.

Five years later, however, and two years after St Francis Bridge opened to the public, none of those jobs have yet materialised. Kilkenny County Council remains confident that the jobs will come as redevelopment of the old brewhouse on the site continues.

“A number of organisations have expressed interest over the years in locating at the Abbey Quarter site,” they said. “The biggest obstacle in 2014 to securing employers to locate in the Abbey Quarter was the lack of visibility regarding a completion date for office space on the site.”

The Brewhouse in the Abbey Quarter is being developed as an office block Source: Maria Delaney via Noteworthy

John Hurley, chief executive of the Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce, said that the creation of jobs has been a big expectation “because it’s a huge area bang smack in the city centre with great potential”. He added that companies are waiting to see what the development looks like before jobs can be secured.

“I would see farther down the years as new office blocks, working spaces and accommodation are built, that certainly 400, 500, 600 jobs potentially is very realistic and will be achieved.” However, this comes with a caveat that this is a ten to fifteen year project so “it’s going to take that level of time before all of that comes to pass”.

Other mooted possibilities for the site include providing a third-level institution on the site. Like the 500 jobs from June 2014, this remains no more than a possibility. Kilkenny County Council has said plans are ongoing. It is, according to them, all dependent on plans for a new Technological University for the South East, combining the Institutes of Technology in Carlow and Waterford in one institution as has happened in Dublin.

However, that plan hit yet another stumbling block this summer when staff in Carlow voted against the merger because of an agreement over working conditions. Even when that is resolved, the two institutes will still have to make a final application for university status with no actual firm commitment made for a campus in Kilkenny.

St Francis Abbey in the former brewery site Source: Maria Delaney via Noteworthy

The contract and the chief executive

At the time of the jobs press release, the future of the bridge itself seemed – at least to the public – to be in limbo.

The local elections of May that year had left a much-changed council. A number of high-profile councillors lost their seats while others had been elected, at least in part, because of their opposition to the bridge. There was even speculation that the bridge project would be scrapped altogether and priority instead given to finishing Kilkenny’s outer ring road.

Behind the scenes however, the management of the county council were ploughing ahead with their plans. On 16 April 2014, a letter of intent of acceptance had issued to the contractor John Cradock Ltd stating that their €4.138 million bid had been successful. The council’s chief executive [formerly known as county manager] – Joe Crockett – formally authorised this letter, he has said.

On June 4, a day after the press release announcing proposals were “at an advanced stage” for 500 jobs in Kilkenny, Mr Crockett had been approached about a new position. According to internal records, he had been “asked in principle” if he would go to work with the National Pension Reserve Fund on developing the Abbey Quarter site.

It was ideal timing for him as his term of office as county manager in Kilkenny was due to expire midway through August.

The following day, June 5, Mr Crockett wrote to the mayor of the county council saying he would no longer be involved in any discussions or work on the site or the Central Access Scheme. “By order” he delegated all such responsibilities to his second-in-command John Mulholland, who continued with the bridge project.

Five days later on June 10, the contract for the bridge was signed by the council; there was no going back now.

A day later, Joe Crockett sent another letter – this time to the Outside Appointments Board, a government body set up to judge whether senior officials moving to other jobs could represent a conflict of interest.

In his letter, Mr Crockett explained how he had been approached about the new job. “It is my belief that my possible engagement with the National Pension Reserves Fund (NPRF) does not give rise to conflict of interest as it is a continuation of working for the public sector on a project or projects which are in the public interest and in the Kilkenny case, in the interest of both Kilkenny County Council and the state,” he wrote.

The board of the Outside Appointments Board approved his acceptance of the post.

On June 23, Mr Crockett finished working with Kilkenny County Council.

In a statement to Noteworthy, Joe Crockett said that the council had operated “rigorous procedures to manage actual or potential conflicts of interest and I complied with these procedures in full”.

He said the part-time job offer of 4 June was the first time he had been approached about a position working on development of the Abbey Quarter.

“On 6 June, I publicly disclosed that I would be retiring from my position with the Council on the expiry of my contract in August,” he said. “I notified colleagues including the Council’s Ethics Registrar on 4 June and also took legal advice on 5 June to ensure that I would comply with all relevant requirements.”

Mr Crockett said that from that day onwards, he no longer had legal authority to make decisions about the bridge or the joint venture to develop the Abbey Quarter.

“The NTMA [National Treasury Management Agency] offered me a position in the NPRF in writing on 25 September 2014. I accepted on 26 September 2014 and took up position on 29 September 2014.” Mr Crockett worked on the project for well over a year, and continues to work as a “part-time consultant” with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund – the successor organisation to the NPRF – on urban regeneration and renewal projects.

***

As for the bridge, the die was now cast.

“The power was removed from [the councillors] as the Council said it was tied to a contract they couldn’t get out of,” explained one of the leading protesters, Margaret O’Brien.

In the Council’s letter of intent to the contractor it stated that “award of the contract will also be conditional on Kilkenny County Council being satisfied the project can proceed taking into account” a number of conditions including “the availability of funding to complete the project”.

This was key to the protest group’s next action as “the council had to show they had enough money to finish the project”, said O’Brien. If they could show the funding wasn’t in place, they hoped they could prevent the scheme from proceeding. “That was the only way to stop it.”

The review that had no “legal consequence” 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

As the new council settled in that summer, there were growing calls for at the very least a formal review of the project. There were no fewer than three separate council meetings in the space of a week as protests against the bridge bedded in.

At the first of the meetings on 21 July, three objectors to the project – Sheila Tuohy, Dr Declan Murphy, and Dr Maura Downey – gave presentations calling for work on the scheme to cease. The council agreed to meet again the following day.

At the next day’s meeting, the councillors were told by the new acting chief executive John Mulholland that no decisions they made that day would have any legal standing in respect of work already underway. Minutes of the meeting explain how Mr Mulholland had said: “The members cannot legally make any decisions today and cannot make any proposals in relation to cease [sic] works on site.”

A third special meeting for 26 July was called. This time, the council management came armed with advice from their solicitors.

In a three-page letter, the new councillors were told legally they had no power of review for the project. “It can bind neither the executive nor the elected members,” explained the letter. It went on to say it was now “too late” for councillors to halt the Central Access Scheme.

“By way of summary,” it said, “the council has no specific power to review [the scheme]. A review has no legal standing or legal consequence. The Council has no statutory power to mandate you to halt works … at its meeting of the 26th July 2014.”

Council management did agree that a review of the scheme could take place. There was no time for an independent outside review and the council would instead ask their internal auditor Dr Sean Brady to do the job.

The mystery €2.7 million in government funding

IMG_5945 View of St Francis Bridge from Green's Bridge with Kilkenny Castle in background Source: Ken Foxe via Noteworthy

Dr Brady’s review is 41 pages long. It describes in detail how the KCAS project had been an objective of the local authority – in one form or another – since the late 1970s.

It made four recommendations, only two of which have been acted upon. It said the scheme should be finished as soon as possible, and that pedestrian facilities should be provided to make access to St Canice’s Cathedral easy. It also called for completion of the Outer Ring Road and the restoration of Green’s Bridge … neither of which has yet happened.

In its support of the project, there are however two key points that have since proved controversial.

The first concerns a cost-benefit analysis of the scheme, which says that the project had a cost benefit (CBA) of 7.16, which was “considered excellent” given the potential rate of return on investment. It says the outer ring road would have a CBA of 3.66, “also considered good”, but still just half of that of St Francis’ Bridge and the inner relief route.

A copy of the first cost-benefit analysis has been obtained by Noteworthy and the CBA is complicated by a number of factors. It was already seven years old and appears to be based on a larger scheme, which was once envisaged but has not been built. It’s also based on preliminary cost estimates with the actual price of the scheme having doubled during the construction process.

In addition, when Kilkenny County Council were asked in a Freedom of Information request to provide the second CBA for the outer ring road, they refused the request saying they said they did not hold any further records.

In further queries about these analyses, they said they were satisfied that the figures were “as accurate as was possible at the time of this report preparation”.

Asked about the other cost-benefit analysis for the outer ring road – they said there was no scheme report as such and it had been taken from an environmental impact statement for the road project.

The report also contains an explicit reference to €2.7 million in government funding that would become available for the scheme.

“Funding is to be provided from KCC [Kilkenny County Council] resources of €2.5 million, KCC development contribution scheme of €3 million, existing … provisions of €2 million, government grants of €2.7 million and other funding of €0.5 million,” wrote Dr Brady.

In a project that was then predicted to cost €10.7 million, this was critical, making up more than 25% of the total budget.

The council explain the basis of the €2.7 million government grant was a belief, or hope that ‘specific non-national road grant funding would be re-introduced’. This appears to have been wishful thinking as Noteworthy has confirmed that government made it clear that there were no further funds for this project. There were no plans to re-introduce the non-national road grant funding.

In fact, the government position on the Kilkenny scheme had been confirmed a full year earlier by Leo Varadkar, then Transport Minister, in response to a parliamentary question.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy had asked in July 2013 what commitments or undertakings the Department of Transport had entered into for the Kilkenny scheme. Then Minister Varadkar explained how €350,000 had been provided between 2008 and 2009 for the project but that no further money was available.

He said money from his department would be focused on repair and maintenance of existing roads. “The small amount of funding available for major schemes will focus on projects already under construction or to which the Department is already committed,” he said.

An internal department briefing from January 2014 also confirms that the government would not be financing such schemes. It said that available funds in the department did not match the amount of work required and the focus had to remain on maintenance and upkeep of existing roads.

“This means that it is not possible to progress a range of projects at this time, both national and regional schemes,” the briefing explained. “No funding is being allocated by the Department for the Kilkenny Central Access Scheme in 2014.”

Mr Varadkar was also briefed on local objections to the bridge. That briefing explained how objectors had said the new route would cause “irreversible damage to the medieval aspect of the city”.

Both the Department of Transport and Transport Infrastructure Ireland have confirmed that no further money was ever given towards the scheme.

Kilkenny County Council has also confirmed the money never materialised. “It was anticipated around this time that specific non-national road grant funding would be re-introduced which … would have been possible to apply to this project,” they said.

Protesters were very disappointed with the result of the review, in particular around their environmental concerns, which had been the real spur behind the protest movement.

€20.5 million and rising?

Even now, two years after the bridge was opened, the exact final cost of the Central Access Scheme is still not known.

Originally, it was predicted that the final bill would be less than €10 million but that has since more than doubled. In its latest official estimate of costs, the county council said the final projected cost of the scheme is €20.498 million.

“A small number of outstanding fees remain to be paid,” they said. “An estimate of the ultimate cost of all outstanding fees remaining for payment is included in [that] figure … therefore, this figure may reduce by a small percentage when the payment process is complete as commitments are generous.”

The €20.5 million bill is made up of €7.8 million for the bridge construction, originally predicted to cost just over €4.1 million. Another €3.8 million was spent on a second contract interlinking the bridge into the existing road network in Kilkenny.

Design and archaeological costs were €2.9 million while €1.46 million was spent on land acquisition and compulsory purchase orders. The council also ran up €1.13 million in legal fees, and just over €3.3 million in what are described as “other costs” and “other contract costs”.

One major bone of contention remains the purported cost of the protests, which Kilkenny County Council has said in the past makes up at least €419,000 of the final bill. The primary cost overrun was on delivery of the bridge itself, which ended up being built over the course of two years.

Under strict environmental conditions, construction by John Cradock Ltd – the firm involved – could only take place during the summer to avoid unnecessary damage to the ecology of the River Nore.

Protesters maintain that the timeline in the original contract was too tight and it would never have been possible to finish the bridge in a single summer. There were no protests the second year and construction still took a considerable chunk of the summer.

Simon Walton, the former director of services at Kilkenny County Council, said they would have been protected from these extra costs, if not for the protests.

“I think it was feasible to do it,” he said. “And if they hadn’t done it in one summer, with no protest, costs would’ve been borne by the contractor. Their programme indicated they would be able to do all of the in-river works in one year [a single summer season],” said Mr Walton.

Kilkenny County Council’s attribution of hundreds of thousands of costs to the protest is disputed by those involved.

One of the protest leaders, Margaret O’Brien, felt “it was never possible to do the work during one summer”. She and other protesters think the work should have been delayed by a year to allow it to be completed over one summer instead of two.

“They lost a whole month [due to the protests] and insisted on starting in July even though it was not possible to finish.”

Local man Turlough Kelly felt it was very unfair how the protesters were used as “scapegoats” for “the price of the bridge going up and up”. He was part of the group that camped at the site entrance for a number of weeks during the summer of 2014.

A collapse in value

Council properties at John Street are occasionally used as a box office Source: Ken Foxe via Noteworthy

One cost that is rarely if ever factored into the KCAS project is the more than €7 million paid for two properties on John Street beside the city council offices.

The money involved has to be included however, as Kilkenny’s grand plans for a city library have become inextricably tied to the Abbey Quarter and the Central Access Scheme.

According to the latest plans, the city’s new library will move into the Abbey Quarter and what is known as the Mayfair Building, famous as a ballroom from Kilkenny’s past. That was not always the plan however, and originally the library had been intended for the John Street site.

A Lisney valuation report for it from February 2006 captures the spirit of the Celtic Tiger. Kilkenny is described as a development hub for the “National Spatial Strategy” and a centre for “regional and national growth”. It is – the valuation says – the only inland city in Ireland, with the John Street properties occupying a “high profile position” and within easy reach of Kilkenny’s historic centre.

The buildings were in use as a furniture store and would, according to the valuation, “without doubt attractive significant demand if available for sale on the open market”. They were described as being “in a good state of repair throughout”.

“In our opinion … the market value of the freehold interest in the above property is in the order of €7,750,000.”

Thirteen years later, the buildings are somewhat rundown but it is also apparent the local authority does maintain them and they have not been allowed to fall into disrepair.

The council makes some use of them: one room is given over to a caretaker’s office, and they are occasionally used as a ticket office for events like the Cat Laughs comedy festival. The large site at the back of the building is overgrown, dozens of signs from a broadband company piled high in the yard.

IMG_5921 Back of John Street Council property in November 2019 Source: Ken Foxe via Noteworthy

The hopeful tone of 2006 is no longer apparent in the latest valuation report for the site, completed last summer by GVA Donal O Buachalla and which has been obtained by Noteworthy. “The properties are generally in poor decorative order,” it says. “The buildings are old, dated, and are Protected Structures. They need complete refurbishment and it appears that structural repairs will also be required.”

It said that from a commercial point of view, it would be “uneconomic” to carry out any development beyond repair and renovation in the current climate. “The market is still reliant on cash rich purchasers,” it said. “It is highly unlikely that finance would be made available for the purchase of properties that are in poor repair or require substantial renovation.”

They said an “extended marketing period” would be required to shift the property with a very limited number of purchasers likely to be interested.

Then came the news Kilkenny County Council did not want to hear. “Considering the location of the properties, their condition, protected status and use, we estimate the market value of the properties at €400,000.”

In a statement, the council said they now planned to develop additional office space on the site “to consolidate delivery of council services from County Hall”. “Development is dependent on the availability of funding,” they added.

***

While the John Street properties lie largely idle, the local authority has leases for two separate buildings nearby.

Less than five minutes walk away on John’s Green, the county council leases an office for their housing section. The annual rent for that – according to details released under FOI – is €174,000. A second building on Parliament Street, on the far side of the Nore, is also leased by the council. It costs €52,000 per year.

Questioned about this by Noteworthy, the city’s director of services Tim Butler has said their new intention is that the John Street property “will be developed into offices to accommodate all staff currently in the rented properties in the coming years.”

The procurement audit

Wider issues around how Kilkenny County Council manages both its finances and procurement have also emerged as part of this Noteworthy investigation.

An analysis of local government audits reveals how at least €9.9 million has been spent by the local authority without a tendering process since 2012.

In their responses to the local government auditor, the council said they had been “proactive in the procurement area”. They said their procurement team were working closely with directorates to “achieve savings on all purchases”.

Kilkenny County Council also said they would tackle specific issues raised around contracts in their housing section. In the latest audit report, they said they were making “good progress” in putting in place procurement frameworks for housing refurbishment and maintenance.

One of the contracts which the local government auditor highlighted in his reports relates to the Central Access Scheme.

In 2013, concerns were raised about how an engineering consultancy company – a joint venture between two separate firms – was given a rolled over contract relating to the bridge project without it being publicly advertised. The firm involved had first been awarded the contract in 2005 only for it to be extended seven years later “without recourse to a tendering process”.

A report explained how the firm involved was struck off in 2014 and that the newer 2012 contract had only been signed by one of the companies involved.

“I have recommended to the Chief Executive that legal advice is required to establish if there is any potential financial or legal exposure,” wrote the local government auditor.

In their response, Kilkenny County Council said their legal advice was that they had no “financial or legal exposure” through the contract.

“In 2005, following notice [publicly] … and in accordance with standard procurement rules, the council appointed consultants for the Kilkenny Inner Relief Road Project (KCAS),” they said.

“Following a very long statutory approval process, one of the consultants, acting on behalf of the two partnering firms and the council voluntarily renegotiated the original agreement in 2012. This was done in order to reflect the changes to the scheme as approved by An Bord Pleanála and to include the requirements of the new Conditions of Engagement for Consultancy Services.”

Two years later, the local government auditor again flagged the issue of the engineering contract, explaining how costs involved had now risen to €1.05 million, more than double what had been anticipated.

“As previously stated in my 2013 audit report, the costs associated with this element of the scheme were not put out to tender,” he wrote.

Another year later and the costs involved had by now climbed to €1.53 million, “300% of the amount provided for in the 2012 contractual agreement”. The local government auditor noted that he had been “advised that this level of fee is the result of the significant additional archaeological works that were required [to comply with a ministerial direction].”

In the local government auditor’s recommendations, he asked for management at the council to undertake a full review of the “procedural and procurement compliance issues” involved in the project.

Two years later and that review still has not taken place.

“We should look at doing that now,” said the council. “We hadn’t made final payment to the contractors until very recently.”

***

The procurement review, the restoration of Green’s Bridge, the completion of the Outer Ring Road, the plan to refurbish the €7 million properties … the council’s to-do list has grown lengthy. Most of the projects are dependent on significant investment, Green’s Bridge and the Outer Ring Road in particular.

Only time will tell if the council’s promises will, or can, be kept. One thing is certain, they have lost the trust of some city residents and created a division with them that may never heal.

***

This investigation was carried out by Noteworthy, the investigative journalism platform from TheJournal.ie. It was proposed and funded by you, our readers, as well as with support from the Noteworthy general fund to cover additional costs. 

You can support our work by helping to fund one of our other investigation proposals or submitting an idea for a story. Click here to find out more >> 

About the author:

Maria Delaney and Ken Foxe

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