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News: Ambitious programme for stronger construction industry

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Eighteen months of preparation came to fruition last week, when the Government launched its 'Construction Best Practice programme' to the industry's great and good at London's QEII conference centre. Whether it was good news for architects remained open to question. The programme, a joint initiative with the Construction Industry Board, is intended to take forward the work of Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan in upgrading and reforming an industry whose culture was described as 'head-banging'.

Interestingly, research for the Construction Clients Forum presented at the launch suggested that the industry is performing better than some of its critics might think: 39 per cent of projects were delivered on or ahead of time and overall project satisfaction was nearly 80 per cent, with about 88 per cent of those questioned saying they would use the same construction team again. Only 7 per cent of projects had major defects which had delayed handover substantially.

But Peter Mason, managing director of Amec and chair of the conference, suggested that poor performance had led to low expectations by clients, and that there was considerable room for improvement, which would come from, he predicted 'an end to the three-party contract' of client, architect and contractor. Instead, he foresaw two parties on significant projects, with a series of other contracts flowing as a result. However, Mason said there remained a highly significant role for architects in the process, and particular with 'socs' - single project or occasional clients.

The tone of the event was very much in tune with Egan, however, with no time for the protection of professional boundaries: this is all about teamwork. If some of the nostrums on offer sounded all too familiar (the car industry analogy was trotted out again), case studies of companies which had undergone painful cultural change were evidence of how changed attitudes could significantly increase service to customers, turnover and margins.

David Adamson of Cambridge University, a higher-education client, described the construction of a £17 million chemistry building for Bristol University using the best-practice approach. Planning had been achieved in three months; all concerned with design and construction had contributed to the detailed design phase, which allowed 89 per cent of the price to be established. By his calculation, achieving the building involved 500,000 decisions, most of which were correct, or easily correctable if wrong. Errors which would cost time or money should be limited to 500 on this sort of job - for which a 3 per cent contingency should be allowed. It sounded more than reasonable.

cbpp hotline (calls at local rate) 0845 605 5556; website http://www.cbpp.org.uk

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