Back in February, Jack Lemley, the new chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, waltzed into a room full of lawyers after two months in the job and set out his stall: disputes on Olympic construction projects will be dealt with during the construction process and not after it.
"We can't have delays," declared the straight-talking American. The industry's legal experts promptly sat up and took note.
Since this meeting, Lemley and his team have been deliberating about what procurement systems and contractual dispute mechanisms should be put in place for the delivery of the Games. Putting aside the industry's obvious frustrations at the ODA's decision to haul back tender documents for the role of programme manager, it's difficult to blame Lemley and his team for again taking their time to decide one of the most critical procurement decisions to affect the whole of the Olympic development - particularly with the war that is Wembley about to be restaged in the High Court.
The ODA has confirmed that it is considering, among other methods, the use of dispute resolution boards to police contracts on Olympic sites (see news). This system, which has been used to a limited extent in the UK, works by having an appointed board of about five industry and legal experts tasked with visiting a site every four to six weeks to troubleshoot and mediate potential conflicts before they crystallise into disputes.
The detail of such a board's power is to still to be determined, but its duties are likely to be threefold. First, it would act as a point of dispute detection - the members would have the power to probe contract negotiations and site decisions. Second, the board, or an individual on the board, could act to mediate potential conflicts before they escalate. And third, should the conflict fail to be resolved through the mediation, board members can adjudicate the conflict.
This approach also comes against a backdrop of the ODA revealing that they are to use the third edition of the NEC. As one legal expert warns, "It will demand a totally different approach - you have to warn the employer of delays and you're penalised if you don't. You can't just make your money through claims at the end."
Lemley is a dispute resolution specialist, and would have gained experience with the use of such boards during his tenure on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. But he will be aware of their pitfalls. Confidentiality could become an issue; the ODA will need to consider whether the boards will operate in the public domain. The projects will generate private profit, but are still being financed with public money. The benefits of transparency will need to be weighed against the disruption caused by continual probes into site relationships. The expert panel may stir up more trouble than it purports to counter.
Given the scale of attention that the Olympic development programme is set to receive, the costs involved in the creation of dispute resolution boards will be minimal. But should the ODA choose to create such a panel to police the project, the people it chooses to fulfil the role will be vital.
Tom Broughton, deputy editor