LONG-awaited work to resurface Sheffield’s crumbling roads at a cost of £2 billion will finally begin in six months – and should create more than 100 new jobs.
Workmen will move on to the first streets to be resurfaced ‘in August or September’.
Sheffield Council has confirmed it will select its preferred contractor from a shortlist of two – Amey and Carillion Mouchel – in April.
The huge 25-year council contract is going ahead despite mass cutbacks elsewhere nationwide.
It will be funded with £1.1bn from the Government under the Private Finance Initiative scheme, and £900m from the council’s own budget.
Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole said: “The project is now moving forward. A decision will be made to select a preferred bidder in around seven weeks’ time and the work is due to start in August or September.”
The news was welcomed by Sheffield Motorists’ Forum member Mac Millard, aged 75, a retired postman, of Longley, who said: “I’m very pleased it is finally going ahead, it’s about time. Improving the roads has to be a priority because they have been in a poor state for 30 years.”
Mr Mothersole said the contract was one of only three similar schemes nationwide to survive ‘a change of Government, a recession and comprehensive spending review’.
“Now it is time to make it happen,” he said.
As well as the creation of more than 100 new jobs, the scheme will involve the transfer of employment of 500 staff from the Street Force department.
But Mr Mothersole promised the council has ‘sought assurances’ from both bidders that other Street Force services, including street cleaning and highway gritting, will be protected in their current form.
Rod Padley, Unison branch convenor at Sheffield Council who has been representing Street Force staff in negotiations, said he believes the contract will be good news overall - but his union is politically opposed to what it sees as ‘privatisation’.
But he said: “Everyone will be transferred according to the same terms and conditions so will not lose out. We are also encouraged because we understand a large number of the new jobs being created will be apprenticeships, giving hope for young people on the back of youth unemployment reaching its highest-ever level.”
The scheme was given initial approval by the then Labour Government in early 2008.
Under the original timetable the preferred contractor was due to be selected last autumn, but there was a six-month delay when the project was put under review by Chancellor George Osborne.
It was granted final approval once £40m of savings were made to minor aspects of the scheme - such as the age at which traffic lights should be replaced, and changes to the replacement of roadside trees.
‘Core’ areas, such as carriageway and footpath resurfacing and street light replacement, were unaffected.
Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg welcomed news of the project’s imminent start.
“This will be great for jobs, great for local businesses and, above all, great for the people of the city who have had to accept shoddy roads as a fact of life,” he said.
“The fact the Coalition has backed this £2bn project when money is so tight shows how committed we are to boosting Sheffield’s economy.”
Sheffield Council cabinet member for environment and transport, Coun Leigh Bramall, said: “It’s great this project will not only transform our roads but will also create new jobs and help stimulate the local economy, particularly as the project will create the opportunity for much needed apprenticeships and graduate training.”