With the construction of Terminal 5, BAA had the chance to rethink the construction process – and it has taken it.
The construction team here is doing a lot of innovative things on a vast project, often under tough conditions. The project has proven that many of the individual initiatives that people have been doing on other projects can be yoked together; ideas such as team integration, smart logistics, off-site manufacture and the use of single virtual project model to pre-plan construction are all tools that are fundamental to making a project run well.
For me, the core message from this flagship enterprise is just how much we stand to gain from properly integrating teams, all the way from the client to the individual operatives. When you get everybody round the table, you get to harness the intellects of all the team members in all their roles, and that can really can make a big project hum.
If you walk around the site you can see that this project is of huge importance to BAA. If you want a cultural change on site you've got to set the example; if you go round the T5 site you can see it's clean, it's well organised, and you can feel there is a buzz – it feels a good project. If you walk around some other major civil engineering projects and see the miserable conditions under which people are expected to work, you can understand the magnitude of the cultural change that BAA has achieved here.
Talking about the operatives, BAA has invested in first-class site welfare facilities. People at the sharp end will respect it for this because as an organisation it has shown them respect. Yes, there is an initial set-up cost, but if you run it properly then it doesn't cost you any more. If you look at the strategic forum agenda, it is all about respect for people – which is what this is.
Now BAA has created a template, the industry needs to take it and use it as the starting point for its other projects
The site's difficult location has given BAA the opportunity to improve its logistical operation. Access to the site is very constrained; the terminal is being built next to a live airport surrounded by busy roads. The use of logistics centres brings huge benefits: it has allowed BAA to prefabricate to factory standards using components from around the world, and then to bring them to site preassembled. And all the lorries will be coming to site full so it will save huge amounts of fuel.
I'd like to see the construction industry take on board some of what is being learned from this project. BAA is a professional, expert client; it is very much in the driving seat. There are a lot of clients that are not in the position to get as involved in the construction process. But now BAA has created a template, the construction industry needs to take it and use it as the starting point for its other projects.
The challenge now is to get clients and main contractors to accept that this way of working, with integrated teams and prefabricated components, should become the norm, because without their buy-in it is difficult for the rest of the team to make change happen. It's a problem we at Stanhope found at our Broadgate development in the City of London: the teams that left the project went back to their old ways of working. That's why it is terribly important that when industry achieves a cultural shift on a groundbreaking project such as this, ways need to be found to spread the learning throughout the industry.
I think you'll see some of the contractors on this project take on board all they have learned and run with it. What about the rest of the contracting world? Why isn't it developing similar techniques? Are most contractors going to become second-feature players to developers and promoters such as BAA? Construction has got to realise that soon all projects will be run like this and if contractors don't adapt, they will be left behind by competitors that do.