Project managers, architects and other professionals have been busy amending and expanding the Egan vision since we listened in on a regional cluster group last summer.
It is three o'clock on a grey thursday afternoon and Peter Runacres is in a meeting at a hotel in Harlow, Essex, explaining why the latest BAA Lynton development at Stansted was not substantially cheaper than the previous development at Gatwick Airport. Here was a client’s architect standing in front of 25 architects, contractors and suppliers admitting why BAA’s and, of course, Egan’s holy grail of reducing cost on a project-by-project basis was still eluding him. And feeling unabashed about it.

Runacres, former project architect with Geoffrey Reid Associates, was candid about costs. The Gatwick scheme cost £79/ft²; Stansted cost £77/ft². There was more parking, and the plant room suffered from a last-minute redesign. “But the scheme still came in on time,” he adds.

This is not a private meeting between the team on project mishaps. Runacres is baring all to fellow members of the East Anglia and Midlands cluster group. It is his turn to report back on the innovations carried out on Endeavour House at Stansted, otherwise known as demonstration project 101. There may be cynicism across the industry over whether Egan’s ideals are filtering down the chain, but there is no sign of it here.

This cluster group is one of several set up on a regional basis in the wake of the Egan report to provide an arena for debate on the innovations on the 100 or so demonstration projects.

If the heart-on-the-sleeve discussions, up-beat mood and lively debate evident at the Moat House Hotel are an indicator, the cluster group is doing its job. “It is enjoyable and informative,” enthuses Terry Britnell, project manager with Boots, who travelled up from Nottingham. “It reaffirms your confidence that things can be done differently,” adds Penoyre & Prasad architect Sally Mackay.

The assorted demonstration project members mulled over the merits of Egan between cheese sandwiches and cauliflower bhajis before getting down to the main session. “It is a very slow step-by-step approach but there can be no quick-fix answers,” explained one person.

The meeting Building attended focused on two projects that had not been reported to the other members before. Runacres was the first to speak. He explained how modular construction and prefabrication coupled with teamwork cut the project time at Stansted from 38 weeks to 30. Runacres has since given up his job at Geoffrey Reid to become a full-time salaried member of the Movement for Innovation.

The second speaker prompted gasps of surprise when he revealed that, on his project, the contractor and quantity surveyor were put in a room together to work out a guaranteed maximum price. Paul Nash of Citex was discussing project 74, Brixton Estates’ industrial development at Yarnton in Oxfordshire. Nash is under no illusions about his achievements: “It’s an upbeat story but if you can’t innovate with portal frame buildings, you might as well give up and go home.”

After the reports, audience members are bursting to ask questions. “When you are working on repeat business like the office project, what effect does that have on your fees?” asked one team member. Runacres admitted that the architect’s fee was severely reduced but so was the design input on the second scheme.

The cluster group members are the project managers and project architects on the schemes and, as such, very much at the coal-face of construction. “I’m being very selfish and picking things up to take back to the office,” says Ray Gambell, commercial manager of contractor Farrans. Farrans has already started to use some innovations, such as reducing its supply chain.

Having attended nearly all the meetings, architect Sally Mackay sees them as a chance to see how her own company’s experiments compare with larger, more experienced outfits. Mackay is project architect on the Great Notley Country Park Discovery Centre, where Penoyre & Prasad is using a two-stage tender process for the first time.

But how open are the group members about their disasters? Runacres, for one, was happy to divulge a quality issue the project team had with an insitu concrete frame – but then again, the in-built partnering approach meant there was not a claim in sight and the project was still completed in 30 weeks.

The cluster group members are not expecting miracles. At the very least, the sessions are a chance to chat with rival firms about their ideas; at the most, they offer the chance to find out that another firm is doing something previously thought impossible. As Mackay say: “Everything seems to be gently better.”

What happens at a cluster group?

The East Anglia and Midlands cluster is a group of 26 projects ranging from the Great Notley Country Park Discovery Centre to BAA Lynton’s Endeavour House office scheme at Stansted Airport. Set up a year ago, the group is run by Philip White, who has just completed a year’s secondment to the Movement for Innovation from the Health and Safety Executive, and Charles Gjertsen of Wates Construction, also seconded to the Movement for Innovation. Once established, the East Anglia and Midlands group agreed to meet on the first Thursday of every other month. As far as possible, one of the demonstration project teams hosts the meeting and one or two members report on their innovations, their results so far and what they have learned. There is also a guest speaker on anything from supply-chain management to key performance indicators. Members of the Movement for Innovation board are also invited. At the meeting Building attended, Peter Hastings, managing director of materials supplier Vencel Resil and a new arrival on the board, made his cluster group debut. This meeting, at the Moat House Hotel in Harlow, Essex, was hosted by BAA Lynton. The audience included officials from Farrans, Penoyre & Prasad, Railtrack, Anglian Water, the Environment Agency, Wates Construction and Citex. White admits that the Christmas meeting attracted only 10 but the meeting held by Anglian Water drew a record 50. The Harlow turnout of about 20 was average. “People are very open about what works and what doesn’t,” says White. “The members are challenging and ask probing questions because they want to learn.”

Egan two years on