It's the concourse slab I am worried about. It is vast: 2 m thick and made of concrete. It has figured in a huge row that has just come to court. London Underground sued its Canning Town civil engineer, Kenchington Ford.
Every consultant should read the 150-page judgment. It is at the heart of "What gives" in modern construction. It has got everything in it – rows about design and variations, unpaid bills, disruptive working and experts getting things wrong … in fact, all the everyday stuff of the biggest civil engineering project in Europe this decade. None of it is to do with the contractor or ordinary building claims; this is all about contractual claims between the consultants and the client. I will come back to Methuselah in a moment, but first consider the faltering start to Kenchington Ford's appointment.
Its fee bid was £1m-plus. Within a few days, it got the thumbs-up and started work. Then, a few days later, it was told a fee reduction was required. A £135 000 lump came off. The judge said: "I have no doubt that Kenchington Ford felt some sense of grievance at the seemingly peremptory way … the price was negotiated down." Now, consider how this huge engineering task progressed. There were, said Kenchington Ford, umpteen changes in its work, umpteen new requirements included to-ing and fro-ing and redesign upon redesign. All of which disrupted Kenchington Ford's productivity and required acceleration – and close on half a million pounds in extra fees.
London Underground resisted this. It hinted at the trial that Kenchington Ford was minded to make claims for additional payments to give it some profit on the contract. There was a suggestion, said the judge, that it was imperative for it to "work the system".
This story has everything – rows about design, unpaid bills, disruption and experts getting things wrong
The judge did not like that analysis at all; he said: "I reject the implication that they were milking the contract to make up for a low tender figure." He awarded the consultant a significant proportion of its additional fees.
Consultants should read the case to see how the claims for extra cash can be tightened up. When resisting these cash claims, London Underground engaged an expert to scrutinise and challenge Kenchington Ford's account. But this fellow began to poke about elsewhere. He lifted some stones for creepy-crawlies. And that's when he discovered the 2 m thick concourse slab. It supports three railway stations at Canning Town. There is not a scrap of criticism about its efficient functioning. Kenchington Ford's brief was that the slab should have a specific lifespan. Guess how long – 400 years. That's what London Underground wanted, and that's what it got.
Now then, I have this image of Noah's Granddad (a mere slip of a lad at 400 years old) standing waiting for the Tube at Canning Town in 2399. Can you see the newspaper headlines in February of the year? "Concrete slab and middle-aged man both reach end of life." The slab was overdesigned, said London Underground's expert. It could have done its job if it were a 750 mm thick, and so London Underground sued its engineer for failing to advise on savings available on option designs.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction.