MYSTERY surrounds the last-minute ditching of major roadworks in Torquay town centre.
Torbay councillors have been told a major gas main renewal scheme due to start in Pimlico this week had to be ditched at the last minute after a contractor 'failed a series of competency tests'.
However, Wales and West Utilities, which was coordinating the work, flatly deny the claim, insisting the last-minute U-turn was due to 'complications with a previous gas mains replacement project'.
An internal council memo, seen by the Herald Express, tells councillors the work was delayed after a 'series of competency tests' were failed.
The email, sent on Friday, January 25, some 72 hours before the work was due to start, suggests other projects recently worked on are also being examined.
The Pimlico project is now likely to be put off for a year.
A spokesman for Wales and West said: "There is no question of any compliance issues with the work undertaken by our contractors in Torbay. Any suggestion to the contrary regarding this or the delay in work is totally incorrect."
Cllr Robert Excell, spokesman for transport, said: "We cannot afford to put health and safety at risk.
"I have every confidence in our officers to ensure that safety is a priority and if there are any issues that need to be addressed then they will do that in the best interests of our residents."
Cllr Excell said that officers were also looking into any implications for other schemes.
"No doubt they will update us in due course but it is vital that it is double checked," he said.
The email from within the council said: "Wales and West contacted the street works team to inform us that the contractor they employ to undertake their specialist main renewal works has failed a series of competency tests.
"This is alarming news and has forced Wales and West to suspend all of their planned activities including the Pimlico scheme.
"While I am disappointed that a major piece of infrastructure investment is not going to take place, Wales and West cannot risk such major works being undertaken with the possibility of the works being substandard and I fully endorse that decision."
The email said the council was talking to Wales and West about how businesses may be compensated for their loss.
It said that a new start date is unlikely to be until winter next year.
The email added: "We will also be checking closely any works that the contractor has already been involved in across the Bay to ensure the highway has not been compromised by any substantial works."
A spokesman for Wales and West utilities said: "We were planning to begin work on a gas mains to help to ensure the continued safe and secure supply of gas to homes and businesses in the area for years to come.
"However, due to complications with a previous gas mains replacement project, some schemes have had to be rescheduled. This includes Pimlico, Torbay.
"This scheme will now take place at a later date and we will liaise closely with the local authority and the community to ensure that they are aware of the rescheduled plans.
"There is no question of any compliance issues with the work undertaken by our contractors in Torbay.
"Any suggestion to the contrary regarding this or the delay in work is totally incorrect.
"If the local authority or local representatives have concerns, we would encourage them to speak with us directly.
"The work forms part of our multi-million pound 30-year replacement programme across the South West of England and Wales, where we are replacing old metal pipes within 30 metres of buildings with highly durable, non-corroding plastic pipes with a lifespan of more than 80 years."
Ward Cllr Darren Cowell said: "I think that it is appropriate that a light-touch inquiry is carried out just to make sure that everything has been handled properly and safety has not been compromised.
"I would like to think that there is not an issue but there has been some reason that has caused alarm for our officers and it is the right thing to do that if there is any doubt that we understand exactly what's gone on."