Herefordshire’s top council official has apologised to the county’s residents for the “huge overspend” on Hereford’s £40-million city centre transport package.

This follows publication of a highly critical new report, commissioned shortly after Herefordshire Council chief executive Paul Walker took over last May, into how costs on the project, particularly the new City Link Road between the railway station and Edgar Street, spiralled out of control.

This left no money for other planned improvements for walking, cycling and public transport – which “does not appear to have been considered” at the time, according to the report, which also flags up “weaknesses in budget monitoring across the project”.

But Mr Walker said: “Strengthened controls now in place will ensure these issues do not occur again. We now want to maximise the development opportunities.”

Most damning is the report’s finding that no record of what the land was originally worth could be produced to back up the costings on which the project’s budget was based.

Buying up the land was supposed to have cost just over £11 million, but this shot up to over £16 million – leaving no cash for the other measures.

The council’s chief financial officer Andrew Lovegrove said: “We can’t find a breakdown of the land – that’s inexcusable. But we have since made a big investment in the right people to manage new projects like our wetlands offsetting.”


Mr Walker added that “key lessons had not been learnt” from cost overruns in previous projects, but that the staff responsible “have now left”.

The council’s director for economy and environment Ross Clark pointed out that the new road had enabled the £90 million investment in the Old Market retail and leisure development, and NMITE, the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering, as well as the link road's new medical centre and student accommodation.

“We now also have a potential new park, wetland and transport hub in the ‘northern quarter’ of the city,” he said.

“We can take what’s already delivered and look at the opportunities.”

Mr Lovegrove added: “There is likely to be a need for more government money for these – which is available but is quasi-competitive with other authorities.”

The council will bid for in summer for Government’s Levelling Up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund, for which “we will need to show we have a clear vision”, Mr Walker added.

Last July when the report was commissioned, the council’s cabinet member for transport Coun John Harrington complained that he had only learned of the financial and management problems around the project after six months in the post.

He said on the latest revelations: “It seems officers adopted an approach that if they kept reshuffling the total £40 million budget into the City Link Road land costs, then they could say with a clear conscience there had been no total overspend.”

The council’s cabinet member for finance Liz Harvey said: “It is difficult to believe that the Conservatives in office at the time knew nothing about these overspends and failures if they were doing even a halfway decent job of running the council.

“The improvements we have made since 2019 to project and financial management mean that investments are now planned and delivered competently and transparently.”

Cabinet member for commissioning, procurement and assets Gemma Davies said these improvements “allow the council to be a better and more intelligent customer”.