DELAYS in completing the major refurbishment of Poole Bridge were “extremely disappointing” but lessons have been learnt, councillors were told at a meeting on Tuesday.

A report by the council’s chief executive, Andrew Flockhart, was presented to cabinet members following a review of the multi-million pound project.

Cllr Ian Potter, portfolio holder for planning, regeneration and transport, requested an investigation into the reasons the project overran by six months.

Nigel Stannard, the council’s head of audit and management assurance, carried out the review. He identified ‘major’ issues with how the initial business case was drawn-up and the subsequent ‘over-reliance’ on contractor Interserve’s ‘overly optimistic’ re-opening dates.

Steel work repairs, uncharted remains of previous bridges and quay walls, unrecorded cables and delays in the delivery of parts and gate installations all contributed to the project being delayed seven times and a series of ‘cost escalations’, according to Mr Stannard’s report.

Commenting on the findings in his own report, Mr Flockhart said several missed deadlines in re-opening the bridge had caused "embarrassment to the council and the contractor" and "affected the public's confidence in the council".

At Tuesday evening’s meeting, Cllr Potter told members he was “comforted the delays were not due to shortcomings with the council’s procedures, policies and governance arrangements”.

However, he added it was “extremely disappointing” the project experienced significant delays.

He said the 11 recommendations made by Mr Stannard for how the council should handle projects of this scale in future were “already put into action”.

“The scheme was extremely complex… but we still managed to stay within budget, and I congratulate officers for achieving this," he said.

Although the work to refurbish the bridge had initially been forecast to cost £4.2 million, this figure rose to £5.5 million before tendering had even started.

The council has now agreed a final cost of the scheme, after contractor Interserve agreed a settlement for its part in the delays, but this figure is not being made public.

However, in his report, Mr Flockhart said the cost of the scheme had been managed within the overall budget for the wider £23.3 million Port of Poole project.

Council leader Janet Walton thanked Mr Flockhart, Mr Stannard and Cllr Potter for requesting the investigation.

Speaking at the meeting she said: “It’s helpful for us going forward in the future, particularly with projects as difficult as this one. The project team managed very well in difficult circumstances."