A range of problems with Design and Build contracts have been highlighted in a damning report into construction failures at a Scottish leisure centre
The report was drawn up by procurement industry expert John Cole, who was appointed by Dumfries and Galloway Council after significant building safety concerns were uncovered at the DG One complex in Dumfries.
It concluded that the nature of the Design and Build contract was responsible for defects including the inadequate installation of wall ties and poor waterproofing.
In his report, Cole said: ‘A key point here is the lack of a direct relationship between the client and the professional consultants or direct knowledge on the part of the client in regard to how they were performing the scheduled services or how they were being instructed, managed or paid during the construction phase.’
Cole said the council, which commissioned the building, placed reliance on the contractor ensuring effective oversight of its contractors and subcontractors.
His report said: ‘This is a fundamental characteristic of Design and Build contracts, where the separation between the client and the members of the professional design team prevents the client having access to or understanding of how their appointment is being managed by the contractor and to what degree the specified services, aimed at protecting the quality of the construction are actually being undertaken.’
The original design and build contract was awarded to Kier Northern in March 2006, with a design team including architects William Saunders Partnership.
However, Cole’s report said: ‘The relationship between design team and client is seen by many as a key to successful projects.
‘In the DG One project there was effectively no relationship and little contact between the council and the design team members employed by Kier.’
In addition, Cole said that one of the arguments traditionally made in favour of Design and Build is that significant amounts of detailed design do not need to be completed prior to tender, or even by the time the building starts on site.
But the report said: ‘While this may allow for an early start, it also means that there has not been the opportunity for full co-ordination of all the elements of the design, particularly in relation to the many changes that are often proposed or simply implemented as part of the work of specialist subcontractors.
‘Failures in the proper co-ordination of the interdependencies and interfaces between construction elements are often the underlying cause of building failures and that is evident in the DG One building.’
Evidence provided to Cole’s inquiry showed that in many key areas, what was built was not in line with drawings submitted with the tender, ‘or even with those submitted by the contractor as part of the as-built documentation’.
Cole also took issue with another argument often made in favour of Design and Build, that clients can pursue the contractor as a single point for damages.
These failures are indicative of systemic problems in the quality of work provided by the construction industry
He said: ‘However, as events have shown in the case of DG One, the ability to sue is no recompense to the public for being deprived of the amenity in question for several years, and the process of suing is often prolonged, complex and expensive, and offers little assurance that a client will recover all costs incurred, both as a result of having to undertake the remedial works to the building and in pursuing this legal route.
‘In this case significantly less than half the costs incurred by the council as a result of the defects in the design and build contract were recovered by the council.’
In addition, the report found that time and cost considerations took precedence over design quality in the original procurement process.
It said: ’It is difficult to understand the lack of inclusion and low overall relative weighting of quality-based criteria for what was originally conceived by the council to be a flagship building that would last at least 40 years and would help stimulate a vibrant regeneration of that area of Dumfries.’
The report also drew parallels with the Edinburgh schools fiasco in 2016, where building defects closed 17 Edinburgh schools, which Cole also investigated.
It said: ‘It is the view of the inquiry that the widespread presence of these same failures in the DG One building lends further support to the finding of the Edinburgh Schools Inquiry that these failures are indicative of systemic problems in the quality of work provided by the construction industry.’
Architect Hurd Rolland is currently working on a package of ‘remedial works and refurbishment of the public area’ having previously been appointed by local authority lawyers to carry out detailed investigations into what went wrong.