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Brussels metro line 3 project could be delayed or suspended
The metro line 3 project in Brussels, which has already faced difficulties, could end up being scrapped or delayed as a result of another additional cost.
Beliris, the federal building authority for Brussels, is threatening to suspend construction of the tunnel and stations between Brussels-North station and Bordet, Bruzz reports.
“Whether the project still has a future depends on the Brussels government,” Beliris said, but the Brussels government reacted with surprise to the comment, saying that “no decision has been taken yet”.
L'Echo newspaper discovered that Beliris, which is in charge of developing the section between Brussels-North and Bordet of the future metro line, had published a vacancy for a “supervisor of change processes”.
The job posting said that “Beliris is currently facing an emergency suspension of one of its biggest projects ever: the construction of metro line 3”, and is therefore looking for someone to guide the 15 to 25 employees working on the project through their potential emergency professional switch.
“In the course of the next few months, it will be confirmed whether it will remain at a suspension or it will be about a permanent abandonment after all,” the vacancy text reads.
The job posting has since been removed and a spokesperson says there was “a misunderstanding between the services involved”.
According to the office of federal minister Karine Lalieux (PS), who is in charge of Beliris, there is no suspension or shutdown at the moment.
“A note on the status of the project has been transmitted to the Brussels government, as happens more often, but the ball is in the Brussels government's camp,” a spokesperson said.
But a Beliris spokesperson said that requested bids turned out to be higher than originally estimated, which is what lies at the root of the possible suspension.
The amount of the extra cost has not been communicated, but it has been described as significant: two to three times higher than estimated.
“A number of scenarios will now be presented to the Brussels government on the future of the project,” Beliris said.
The Brussels government responded through the office of its mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen). It said: “We are very surprised. Beliris did indeed present us with the proposals received at the beginning of this week.
"The metro remains an important project for the Brussels government. We will review and discuss this at government level on Thursday. No decision has been taken at this stage.”
Several politicians are asking for clarification.
“There must be clarity on the decision-making process that led Beliris to this decision,” read an earlier statement from the Les Engagés party.
“How long has Beliris known about this? They have had the offers since April. It is now late May. Is it Beliris that decides or the government?”
Brussels MP Cieltje Van Achter (N-VA) also questioned the development, saying that the Brussels government approved €279 million worth of Beliris investments for all kinds of smaller projects while money is needed for the metro: “Now Beliris is stopping the metro project. Who decides such a thing?”
Françoise De Smedt, PVDA party leader in the Brussels parliament, is asking the Brussels government to make public the Beliris note justifying the decision.
This is hardly the first time the works for this metro line have run into issues. The budget has only increased since 2019, from €1.7 billion to more than €2.6 billion. The Brussels region plans to ask the federal government for a budget extension.
Four scenarios appear to be under consideration in the fallout: continue the project, suspend it, rethink it or cancel it.
Under the first scenario, the Brussels government would mandate Beliris to negotiate with the two construction companies that submitted bids. The contractors would have to revise some of their prices, and Beliris would then also negotiate, among other things, the high damages included in the bids.
But there is a risk that those negotiations will not lead to meeting the budgetary targets, Beliris writes in an assessment. A team of experts would have to be assembled under this scenario, which comes at a hefty additional cost.
Under the second scenario - a suspension - the idea would also be to negotiate cheaper contracts, only the project would be temporarily suspended while that is done, for perhaps six months.
That would give the construction manager time to analyse some technical problems and “unusually high prices” in the bids, strengthening Beliris's negotiating position.
A third scenario means modifying the project slightly to thoroughly, which includes the possibility of changing the public procurement procedure, splitting the tenders into smaller parts “with more acceptable risks for the contractors”.
Under this scenario, Beliris also proposes scrapping three of the seven planned metro stations permanently. This would have a solid impact on the schedule, as all the study work would have to be redone. “But this scenario does allow bids to be received that respect the budget,” their assessment reads.
The last scenario Beliris suggests would entail completely cancelling the project.
“The advantage of this scenario is that we can immediately stop several ongoing contracts and reduce the cost of the studies needed to negotiate,” Beliris said.
An estimated €50 million has already flowed into studies for the northern part of the new metro line, meaning that money will be lost under this scenario.
There would also be costs associated with terminating ongoing contracts, currently totalling €70 million. Damages would run from 15 to 25% of those contracts.
Minister Karine Lalieux said she regretted the way in which the Beliris assessment note reached the media.
“That was a big mistake by my administration,” Lalieux said. “The project has not been suspended. We are waiting for the decision of the Brussels government. The future of metro 3 is in its hands.”