The final cost of a high-speed bus system serving Gatwick is almost £40 million.

Transport users have questioned the amount spent on the Fastway scheme between Crawley, Gatwick and Horley.

Three quarters of the money, £28.7 million, will come from taxpayers including a £19.5 million grant from central government.

The rest will come from the British Airports Authority, bus companies and private developers.

West Sussex County Council last year launched an investigation into why the contribution from the council and taxpayers spiralled from the original estimate of £23.7 million to £28.7 million. It blamed inflation and delays caused by service providers.

Chris Rackley, a purchasing manager for a construction business in Crawley Trading Estate, has asked the council for a breakdown of the money spent on the scheme.

He said: "It is a disgusting waste of money just for a bus lane.

"I don't think we need a bus lane. If the buses employed a conductor like they did in my youth, they'd all move a little bit faster.

"You can create a bus lane with a tin of paint. You could build schools with that money or give it back to the taxpayer."

Mr Rackley, 59, of Chanctonbury Road, Burgess Hill, said his journey to work had been slowed down by the building work in the past two years.

He said: "It has been creating horrendous problems through the Crawley Trading Estate.

"For £40 million pounds, they could have put lights up the M23."

Richard Symonds, of Lavington Close, Ifield, Crawley, a bus driver who works for a firm unconnected to the project, believes costs rose unexpectedly because the council had been "commercially naive".

The scheme should be completed early this year. It has been running 24 hours a day since May 2004. In a written response to questions about the cost, Councillor Tex Pemberton, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "Fastway has been financially supported by a number of partners, including almost 50 per cent funding from central government.

"This reflects the confidence of these organisations that Fastway is a worthwhile project and is in keeping with Government and local policy which supports the delivery of sustainable transport schemes."

In an audit following the unexpected rise in costs, independent inspectors found there had been "ineffective accountability, complacency, ineffective risk management and a lack of clear ownership of the financial management responsibilities" in the council's handling of the project. Four officers were investigated and cleared of wrongdoing.

The auditor's report is available at The council next intends to install Fastway systems in East Grinstead and along the coast.

Monday, January 9, 2006