David Hardy is a community-spirited man – chair of his parish hall, school governor and a fan of village life. Now he's trying to introduce a bit more neighbourliness into construction. We meet the manager of the Considerate Constructors Scheme.
David Hardy reads his way through a long and detailed list of questions, pausing now and then to tick off points and allocate marks to the nervous site manager before him. He reprimands gently on occasion, but is full of praise for many of the site's initiatives.

This is the softly-softly approach that is a Considerate Constructors Scheme inspection. The site in question scores above average on Hardy's tick-sheet – but not as highly as the contractor had hoped. "It's still a very good score," Hardy reassures the disappointed manager. "It's getting competitive these days."

The CCS scrutinises what the man on the street encounters every day – pavements blocked by cement mixers, roads congested with delivery lorries, drills making a racket early in the morning.

"We're looking for the kind of things that are likely to cause annoyance to the public or inconvenience to the neighbours or problems with the environment," Hardy, 65, explains. "We're there for the general public, if you like."

The chaos on Fitzpatrick's Trafalgar Square site, highlighted in Building two weeks ago, is a perfect example of what the CCS aims to discourage: messy pavements, confusing signage and rude workers who don't follow safety rules. The body didn't receive a single complaint from the public, but has condemned the site, calling it "bad housekeeping".

The CCS started out as the brainchild of the now defunct Construction Industry Board, which copied a small scheme run by Westminster council in the central London area. For the first 18 months the project progressed slowly; initial interest from major contractors tailed off and new registrations peaked at 75 in July 1997.

Then the Construction Confederation took it over and Hardy, a genial, ruddy-faced former chief executive of contractor Firmco, was lured out of retirement to take the helm.

"It started out very small, in one of my spare bedrooms," he recalls. "I was only working two days a week. We had a computer and my sons Matthew and Edward helped."

From these less-than-promising beginnings, the CCS has blossomed. Hardy is now working full time coping with a deluge of site registrations, monitors' visits and enquiries. More than 150 new sites are registered every month, and the CCS monitors work worth £6bn a year, all over the UK. The number of registrations rose 20% in 2001, and 30% last year. This year's figures are already shaping up to beat that.

We really do have senior people from the industry. Their experience makes the scheme work

The CCS is the only such nationwide scheme in the world, and other countries such as Italy, France and Australia have shown an interest in copying it. In December the government recommended to its departments that their sites should join, making the CCS monitoring criteria practically standard for public sector projects.

A monitor visits every CCS site in their geographical area at least once. They scrutinise it from the outside, looking for potential problems and inconveniences, and also visit local homes and businesses to solicit their views. They then interview the site manager, asking questions about everything from workers' showers to contact with local schools.

Rather than chastising, they offer advice – the atmosphere is that of friendly partnership rather than adversarial confrontation. Hardy is keen to emphasise that the CCS isn't a regulatory body. It doesn't have the power to force sites to change. And it doesn't comment on the project fundamentals – deadlines, quality and budget. "We're not looking at those things," Hardy says. "But they're very closely associated. If they can get our stuff right, then it's highly likely that they're going to get the rest right. We're a good measure of the performance of contractors overall."

The criteria are assessed and policed by a crack squad of former chief executives, engineers, architects, contractors and surveyors, most of whom have taken the part-time job en route to retirement.

"We really do have senior people from the industry," Hardy says with pride. "They make the scheme work through their reports and experience."

It's a social group Hardy feels comfortable with – he has spent the past 50 years in the construction industry, with stints at Taylor Woodrow and CP Roberts. He started out as a 16-year-old office boy in a building agency, then landed an apprenticeship as a surveyor's estimator before taking over a department of works. His career has taken him around the world and he has worked in planning, buying and senior management, ending up as a chief executive. "I like to think I've covered a hell of a range," he says. "The industry has been very good to me."

And it is his past that motivates him to promote the CCS: "I'd like to think my experience is useful in putting something back," he says. "A lot of our monitors have that attitude – it's their industry and they want to help it along, help it improve."

Hardy is a courteous man with the firm-but-fair air of an old-fashioned schoolmaster. He doesn't hesitate to give credit where it's due, and he thinks construction has much to be proud of. "We can easily condemn the industry but we also need to give them credit," he says. "If you were to look at sites abroad you'd find that our sites stand out. We're a shining example. We're doing an awful lot of things right. The CCS is here to say that there are still things we need to do.

Personal effects

Who’s in your family? My eldest son Matthew set up the CCS database. Edward, my other son, is the manager here, and my wife Ann also works here part-time. We’re all involved. What do you do in your spare time? I’m pretty active: I’m governor of a school, chairman of the Amwell Society, which is my village. I’m also chairman of the parish hall, and a founder member of a group called the Old Codgers – old boys having a jaw over a pint of beer. And I go cycling once a week. Can you draw a parallel between your work life and your other activities?  To some extent. One of my best friends says I’m a workaholic and I’m afraid they’re right. Organisation and management – I suppose I do enjoy organising and arranging things. Where do you go on holiday? France is my favourite place. We’ve just bought some property in the Midi, near the Pyrenees, and I’ll be spending a lot more time over there now. I’m going to be inundated with people wanting to come and stay.