I am sure Keith Pickavance needs no advice from me about the real cause of disputes such as Wembley (Letters, 24 June, page 40).

Although the absence of critical path planning is probably a feature of most projects where disputes occur, they can also happen on projects where it is in use. I would say there are 15 main causes of disputes such as Wembley:

  • The client demands a guaranteed maximum price before the design is complete
  • The designers are appointed before the builders on their institutions’ standard forms
  • The lead contractor accepts responsibility for design by others as if it were his own
  • The lead contractor accepts someone else’s cost plan as if it were his own
  • The lead contractor gives a guaranteed maximum price before the last specialist contractor is appointed
  • The lead contractor doesn’t do any building, and calls itself a construction manager, or similar
  • Rebidding is used to leverage and procure the specialist contractors
  • The specialists are appointed on onerous bespoke contracts administered by the construction manager
  • One of the onerous terms requires them to “co-ordinate” their own activities, free of charge
  • Another gives them unquantifiable design obligations and risk without a premium
  • Another requires them to plan and programme their own work free of charge and submit it for the approval of the construction manager who then uses this to “masterplan” the project
  • Another requires them to give a guaranteed maximum price to the lead contractor
  • Another requires them to absorb the cost of any post-design freeze changes
  • Another extinguishes their rights to request extensions of time
  • The client and the lead contractor then make numerous and far-reaching changes all the way through the project.

I don’t know if any of these golden rules have been broken at Wembley, but history shows that they certainly were on the other projects mentioned in Pickavance’s letter. I also surmise that from his point of view the lack of critical path planning always makes it harder to sort out the claims!

It is easy to get sanctimonious and self-righteous about the plight of the poor old specialists on these megaprojects, and one does feel sorry for them, but the plain fact is, they have a choice. None of the above examples will come as any surprise to anyone experienced in the ways of the UK construction industry.

It is hard to find fault with a client who wants cost certainty up front. But it is hard not to find fault with those who know the golden rules, break them anyway and then get upset when it all goes badly wrong.

Tony Clarke, director of management services, Knowles