The £20m hospital in Chelsea was begun in 1987. Taylor Woodrow Construction was the main contractor. There were massive delays on phase one. It was 43 weeks late. The contractor was given extensions of time by the contract administrator and claimed an additional £17m. The hospital (now called The Brompton) rejected all that. It sought to set aside the extended time and claim damages for delay. Arbitration commenced. That stopped when Taylor Woodrow accepted £11.5m.
Was that the end? No, it was only the start. I counted 16 consultant defendants in the case. They blame the hospital board, Taywood, and, of course, each other. Not at all friendly is it? The trial should have got under way a few months ago. Before doing so, the judge spent two weeks reading the files. Then he raised a query or two.
One of these is about what I call "the fuzzy edge detail". It is this confounded problem of how far the consultant's drawings are supposed to go in telling the putter-upper where and how to install his pipes and drums, as opposed to what can safely and economically be fathomed on site. This problem has existed for decades; hospitals are the very best example of the problem.
Now then, let me warn you, I am not going to make any comment about the Brompton hospital drawings dispute; the reason is that it is a live issue coming to court. But I will tell you what one of the experts says is required when a party to the contract is supposed to produce "co-ordination drawings". Or rather, I will tell you what was specified in the contract and tell you what this expert will be telling the court. It is the sort of argument that you might easily hear on your own construction contract. I don't know whether this particular expert is right or wrong; let me just tell you his view.
I counted 16 consultant defendants in the case. They blame the hospital board, Taywood, and, of course, each other. Not at all friendly is it?
The idea was that the co-ordination drawings were prepared using the designs of the architect. The contract explained that they were to show the interrelation of two or more engineering or public health systems and "the clarity of the drawings shall be such that the contractors/subcontractors may use them for construction purposes". The scale was to be 1:50 and depict the services in their allotted and co-ordinated positions. Some of the row, of course, focuses on the drawings allegedly being below par and delaying the contractor. The expert will say that drawings that come up to snuff will be those that allow a contractor to know where the construction services are to be installed. He goes further: little input should be required by the contractor by way of determining the position of the services. In short, can the contractor use the consultants' drawings for construction purposes without difficulty?
Another expert explains that services are to be depicted by the drawing board wallah in their allotted position, showing spacing for access and maintenance, the size of services they are intended to co-ordinate and demonstrating the spatial relationship of services to one another without recourse to other drawings. So all those services routed above the suspended ceilings and vertically in ducts and risers are to be shown integrated on the drawings – according to these two experts.
And at that point I say nothing. What I do know is what happens in real life when the sprinkler man, or the ducting man, or the fire barrier man stumbles across yet another clash of services and wants to know what to do about it.
He fills in a daywork delay sheet, doesn't he? And when it happens for the umpteenth time, and the blokes aren't earning their productivity bonus, they pack it in and go to another job. And when the co-ordination is eventually sorted, the suspended ceiling bloke has already stood down his men and is too busy elsewhere to come back.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. You can write to him at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple, London EC4 7EY, or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.