Cleaning up Oxford's contaminated Bertie Place was handled so badly it cost the city council £88,000 more than expected.

That's the damning criticism of the £1.4m project in a new report - by the council's own officers.

The internal audit found:

*Liaison between council departments was "at best informal and ad hoc";

*Decision-making was "poor or non-existent";

*Financial management of the project had "shortcomings". The toughest criticism was reserved for the council's City Design department, responsible for drawing up specifications and monitoring contractors.

The cost spiralled after soil which had not been properly tested was cleared for use on gardens. It meant the council had to spend £54,000 on more earth and carry out more tests.

Three senior City Design managers have left or retired since the project was completed in July. Cllr David Connett, Liberal Democrat housing spokesman, said: "This is not the first time a project has been handled so poorly by City Design. We get an appalling service. We have got a department that is not functioning well."

About 4,000 tonnes of earth had to be removed from gardens and a recreation ground in Bertie Place and Abingdon Road after it was found to be contaminated with mercury, arsenic and lead. The council got special permission from the Government to borrow £1.27m for the work and used taxpayers' money to meet the rest of the cost.

On the overspend, head of strategic housing services Celia Angel said: "I would not say this was a major problem. On a project of this magnitude, the overspend is not considerable."

Story date: Tuesday 13 April

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