ENGINEERS are to be called in to rip out the crumbling surface of a multi-million pound transport hub amid fears a fault is causing part of the ‘iconic’ site to sink.
Portsmouth City Council has admitted it will have to completely replace The Hard Interchange’s ‘bus apron’ – the area where coaches pick passengers up from.
The lightweight material that forms the surface of the Portsea centre was made specially for Portsmouth out of a mixture of expanded polystyrene and other materials.
But it has been plagued by structural woes since the £9.2m bus station opened in May 2017, costing the taxpayers thousands to resurface it and fill in potholes.
However, despite the problems, council officials insisted the bus station’s main superstructure and concrete supports were ‘not in any danger of sinking into the sea’.
Councillor Lynne Stagg, traffic and transport boss on the council, said: ‘Nobody wants to alarm the general public. That’s why it’s important to stress that there’s no danger, it’s not going to collapse into the sea.’
But she admitted the bus station’s top surface was a major worry and added: ‘It’s actually subsiding.’
The crisis has caused a row behind closed doors to erupt between contractors, Osborne, and designers, RoC Consulting, with claims now swirling the pair are squabbling over who was responsible for the error.
Meanwhile, the council is preparing to fork out the cash to repair the surface in a move city leaders have branded both ‘disappointing’ and ‘embarrassing’.
Councillor Simon Bosher, the former transport boss at the council who was in charge when the transport terminal was developed, said: ‘This is a landmark building worth almost £10m and a key transport hub in the city but with a bus apron that’s not fit for purpose.
‘It’s left the city council in an embarrassing situation where the designers and contractors are pointing fingers at each other over who is responsible and we’re just stuck in the middle.’
An investigation is yet to reveal exactly why the 45cm-thick surface is caving in under the weight of the buses.
Experts have claimed a fault may have led to water leaking into, causing the surface to break up more easily.
The council has now committed to replace the entire apron later this year, with work due to start in the autumn.
The major project went out to tender several weeks ago, with the council expected to approve a designer at some point in the summer.
Cllr Bosher demanded that no city cash be used to pay for the defect and said the cost should fall on whoever was responsible for the fault.
Councillor Steve Pitt, deputy leader of the council, agreed but said that in the short-term, the council would have to pay for the repairs until it can claim it back on insurance.
The senior Lib Dem would not be drawn on how much the repair bill will cost but said the council already had money set aside for the work.
He added: ‘Regardless of this issue – which will be sorted – the regeneration of that part of the city has been incredibly successful.
‘People love the fact it’s a more welcoming and attractive space and as a key gateway into Portsmouth – it’s exactly what we want to see for the city, albeit that as part of the process there has been a hiccup on one bit of it.’
Martin Laver, the council’s regeneration assistant director, said the authority would be working with bus firms to reduce the impact on service while the repairs take place.
He added: ‘It is a disappointing situation for the council to be in. But once we have a contractor on board we will work with them to come up with the best methodology for actually doing the work.’
The Hard acts as a link between rail, bus and ferry terminals for commuters and tourists. It is estimated ever week 160,000 people a week pass through.
A spokeswoman from RoC Consulting said the firm was unable to comment on the situation.
The News has approached Osborne for comment.