THE project to replace a railway bridge in Colindale has run almost two times over budget, costing the tax payer an extra £11 million, it has emerged.

The work to replace two 19th century bridges on Aerodrome Road was estimated to cost £12 million, but Barnet Council papers reveal that the cost has now climbed to more than £23 million.

The rising cost has forced the council to apply for additional Government funding to complete the work, which is five months behind schedule, putting additional pressure on the public purse.

A report that will submitted to the council's cabinet resources committee next Wednesday paints a scathing picture of the performance of council officers, who downplayed the risks of the costs rising and the implications of the delays.

Councillor Andrew Harper, the cabinet member responsible for the project, said: "I think some inexperience with this kind of project caused us to underestimate what the difficulties might be, and potentially the ultimate cost of the project.

"Frankly, when we started off this thing I don't think we budgeted enough for it."

The installation of modern bridges and the widening of the road to three lanes was designed to improve transport links as part of the ongoing regeneration of Colindale.

Work began two years ago and was due to be finished this Spring, but it soon became apparent, in March 2007, that the initial budget would not be enough.

But when the cost was estimated again, according to the report, it was "not based on a thorough evaluation of the project, no feasibility study was carried our...and the estimate proved grossly inadequate".

The report claims that when council officers made progress reports to councillors, they were "unreasonably optimistic" in their accounts of the rising costs and delays.

There was "an apprent lack of awareness" by technical officers of the implications of the delays.

The council has now appointed a consultancy firm to tackle more than 300 claims made by contractors and mitigate the rising costs, and hopes to reduce the final cost to £21 million.

But Mr Harper refused to place blame at the door of officers or his cabinet colleague councilor Matthew Offord, who procured the contractors.

"I don't think anybody in particular is to blame," he said.

"My priority was to ensure we had the right team in place to get fully on top of this.

"I think Matthew did what he could do at the time with the advice he was given. I'm certainly not going to hold it against him."

More to follow.