We are, hopefully, just weeks away from achieving closure at Holyrood.
I say “hopefully” because the project has been accompanied by four years of wildly inaccurate predictions, and I don’t want to supply the latest. In a little more than a week Lord Fraser is due to present his report into what went wrong, and early next month the Queen will officially close a hideous project and open a stunning building. And perhaps then the Scottish public will appreciate that the outcome of all the travails, tantrums and tragedies is one of the finest pieces of architecture to have been produced this century.
Writing this week in Building, Davis Langdon partner Paul Morrell assesses what went wrong with Holyrood, and what lessons the industry needs to learn from the debacle, or re-learn as the case may be (see pages 42-45). Morrell’s trenchant analysis points to a failure to create clear chains of command and responsibility and to share information. All sensible stuff, but perhaps the most disturbing part of his article comes in an aside.
Morrell comments that “construction management might get an undeserved slap from Fraser”. This would be an easy line for Fraser to take: after all, CM offers no guaranteed maximum price, so offered no protection when costs started to inflate so grotesquely. The fact that it was the only possible form of contract at the time of Bovis Lend Lease’s appointment in 1999, when the designs were nowhere near complete, may be conveniently ignored. As Tony Bingham, Building’s legal columnist, put it so eloquently in these pages, to blame the procurement route for the cost escalation is just plain wrong (23 July, page 50). The real villains were all those design changes, which, as Bingham said, caused “massive upset, massive disruption, loss of productivity and money”.
The danger is that the case against CM will be lent some illusory substance by two other jobs that have run into problems: the Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street and the Lion Plaza office block near the Bank of England. The dispute over the hotel is currently being resolved in court between Laing and the client. The £230m Lion Plaza office scheme almost sunk its construction manager, CPC, which briefly entered administration after making a loss of close to £1m. One practitioner emailed Building shortly after to express his “very serious concern” over the future of the procurement route. It was headed “The death knell of CM?”
The worry among the profession is that when things go wrong on a CM job, it’s the firm in the construction manager’s role that seems to get the blame. This runs against the whole ethos of CM, where your Bovis or your Mace or Schal becomes part of the professional team, and shoulders and shares responsibility with the other members for how the job goes. And just as importantly, the construction manager represents the client; it is not the client’s whipping boy when changes are made or problems arise. Let’s hope the overreaction is halted and that CM is seen for what it is: an ingenious solution that can and does work for complex, high-quality construction projects, and one that fits well with the industry’s need to work in partnership with itself and its employers. It would be a tragedy to lose it.
Phil Clark, deputy editor