Construction projects notoriously run over time, but when you are building a venue for an international sports event, time is of the essence. Here’s a few things to bear in mind
The three principal criteria for any building project are time, cost and quality. It has been said that you can, at best, only ever satisfy two of these on one project - meaning it is impossible to achieve high quality, low cost and short timelines. Aiming for short timelines may be the problem. If one seeks high quality, then asking for a project to be completed in less than the agreed time is likely to mean the outcome is compromised.
We tend to underestimate construction time and give insufficient consideration to how the time available is used. Time management is a difficult concept to handle and is too frequently seen as something that relates only to the construction process, whereas the whole procurement process has to be considered. Generally, the importance of the completion date for projects grows as the project is advanced, so much so that once we get to the construction phase, we start thinking about damages for delay. Before that, feasibility, design and approval processes tend to take as long as they take.
Often the issue is the pre-construction period taking too long and consequently eroding the time available for construction. With this come problems with quality and defective works, health and safety risks, increased costs and, of course, a project that is late. Arguably, all this could be avoided, or at least ameliorated, if adequate time were provided to procure the work.
It’s clear from the Dehli Games that problems can arise even where there is a realistic project period. It is not only about planning, it is about action
The initial assessment of the time required for the project is often the most important factor in determining whether it is completed on time. This is of particular importance when the completion date is critical, such as was the case for the 19th Commonwealth Games in India.
In November 2003, the Commonwealth Games bid was awarded to Dehli - just short of seven years before they were to take place: a period that from experience was considered adequate. But we all know now that the project experienced many problems including the collapse of a footbridge under construction and partial collapse of a venue ceiling. Five hundred days before the opening only 30-40% of projects had been completed and most of the others were being delayed. It was also said that, as the deadline approached, projects would have to be speeded up but at a cost. Those costs went towards what is reported to be the Games’ highest ever expenditure. The criticism at times was vitriolic and the finger of blame was pointed at the Indian government and the organising committee, who were accused of not using proper tender procedures and, in some cases, not even using a contract.
Despite the fact that - with under three months to go to the opening - the organising committee was inviting 19 tenders, with bidding periods of up to 21 days, the Commonwealth Games opened on the originally scheduled date. The deadline was met - but at what cost and what quality?
With all the news of the Olympics, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are largely ignored. They were awarded to Glasgow in November 2007, which gives them the equivalent seven year period. So, three years into this programme, what have the organisers learned from the Dehli experience?
It is clear from the Dehli Games that problems can arise even where there is a realistic project period. It is not only about planning, it is about action. Action that is properly focused and properly considered; action that is carried out to programme.
Before 2009, Glasgow 2014 procured the necessary specialist support services to develop the detail of its delivery plan and has been procuring new venues, upgrading existing venues and related infrastructure with a view to securing the bulk of the construction procurement by 2012. It has a plan and there is action and expertise. We know, for example, that Sir Robert McAlpine has been appointed to carry out the £92.6m construction project comprising the National Indoor Sports Arena and the 2012 velodrome, under a 2005 edition SBCC Standard Building Contract with Quantities (which is the Scottish version of the JCT equivalent).
Clearly, the organising committee is doing all the right things and will, I am sure, deliver the 2014 Games on time and hopefully without the consequences of the problems encountered in Dehli. Preparing for the Commonwealth Games is indeed a marathon and it is important to remain focused throughout its planning and to keep demanding what is necessary.
Professor Peter Hibberd is chairman of the Joint Contracts Tribunal