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London Conference For Technical Specialist

28 February 2012

Costain’s Technical Director, Bill Hewlett, addressed leaders from Government and the construction industry on aspects of the industry’s future at a prestigious London conference.

The invitation-only event, ‘Innovation In Construction’, was co-Sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the University of Cambridge's Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Bill put forward his thoughts on several areas including procurement, disruptive innovation and engaging society with the construction industry.

Focusing on procurement of the construction stage of projects, he asked why some projects ran according to plan but others went awry.

He argued that the answer lay in the degree of project complexity; building a straightforward office block meant that not only could components be fully defined, but also the time likely to be required to construct the building. A basic building was a defined product that could be built for a lump sum and with a fixed end date.

However, applying this approach to a complex project would fail. Such projects – where it is not practical to know within an acceptable risk profile all the factors that could affect the project at the time the contract is signed – were much less easy to define.

By way of example, he profiled our experience of rail station refurbishment in London. There, it is recognised from the outset that problems could arise and these are duly accommodated.

“The complexity of dealing with the unrecorded aspects of Victorian construction, in a highly-sensitive work environment, is recognised at the time of procurement; in consequence, a proactive approach to risk share, including progressive design development and Building Information Modelling definition, is put in place.”

He welcomed the appearance of new funders for construction projects – notably two groups of pension funds with which the Government had recently signed a memorandum of understanding.

However, the procurement approach had to match the complexity of the individual project: “My concern, looking ahead, is that we need to make sure that the new funders procure with this in mind. My experience of acting as a builder in the PFI market is that private funders have seldom chosen to share construction risk with the builder.”

With this in mind, the new funders had to be directed towards more interactive forms of procurement. “They need to set about procuring in a way that the risk is managed to deliver best value to the project.”

Turning to engagement between the construction industry and society, he asked his audience if it was possible to replace ‘Nimby-ism’ with eager engagement. This would avoid costs and delays that often stemmed from mistrust.

Although the industry was quite good at engagement, the correct approach is vital, particularly in sensitive areas such as the Green Belt or rural districts. “If you go out protected by process and legality, it looks like you are going out for a fight and you’ll get one. A more human engagement can open up very different possibilities.” Again, he was able to draw on Costain’s portfolio to demonstrate best practice.

After the event Bill summed up: “This was a high profile event at which I was proud to be able to promote the great work we do at Costain, and the great way we do it – my thanks to everyone across the Company who does it.”