The best project of 2006

This year’s Built In Quality awards has an additional category for supreme winner, drawn from all the schemes that made the shortlist. This award was decided by the three chairmen of the three judging panels, who scrutinised the entries for those special qualities that the LABC stands for: partnership, innovation and quality.

After lengthy deliberation and discussion the judges thinned down the many finalists to three truly exceptional projects. These were:

• The Core education centre at the Eden project in Cornwall. This stood out for astonishing demonstration of what cutting-edge computer technology can do with wood, and its fine sustainability credentials.

• The Chapelfield shopping centre in Norwich. Here it was the good working relationship with the building control team, and the technical skill with which a smoke management system was installed in the atrium that caught the judges’ eyes.

• Project SLAM initiative. The main selling point of this enormous project was the success of the partnership between Birmingham, Poole and Debut Services. The sheer scale of this scheme, which will eventually involve the provision of almost 10,000 beds, meant that regulatory approval was at a premium: any problems would have a huge effect on the entire project. In the event, the approval process was both smooth and rapid, and as a result the project flourished.

And the winner was …

Project SLAM

The partnership between Bovis Lend Lease and Babcock Services was formed to upgrade the living conditions of the Ministry of Defence’s servicemen and women. The judges picked it for the 2006 supreme award on the basis of its success in taking on something that has never been done before: this was the first time that the public and private sectors had teamed up to tackle such an ambitious project spread over 70 sites across the UK.

The judges also noted that the scheme has a lesson to private housebuilders, who would make a leap in productivity if they copied the efficiencies delivered by the SLAM strategy.

This rested on two pillars. The first was a type-approval and partnership scheme. As the work was spread over England, Scotland and Wales, its centre was located somewhere in the Birmingham area, along with its project offices. The council’s building consultancy job was to verify that Debut’s designs complied with the MoD’s extremely complex, and extremely inflexible, design rules. Any slip-ups here might be multiplied across tens of sites, with obvious implications for the cost of the project.

This didn’t happen. Instead, Birmingham and its partners at Poole were able to offer advice across the 70 sites, each attuned to the local conditions at each location. At RM Condor, a royal marine base located outside Arbroath, it was even able to organise building control under the Scottish regulations.

Another Royal Marine base, this time at Poole, exemplified the success of the partnership. This scheme was a three-storey building containing

24 ensuite bedrooms a floor, with communal facilities located in the central core. The construction made use of steel frame and modular units to make sure it would be finished on time, within budget and would fit with the client’s tough quality requirements.

This scheme also demonstrates one of the advantages of working on a project this size, if things go well. This is that lessons learned on one site can be applied throughout. In the case of Poole, the team learned more about how the construction techniques related to air tightness and sound insulation, both of which were well in excess of the standards called for in the Building Regulations.

All in all project SLAM illustrates exactly what each side of the public–private partnership has to offer the other. And those projects entering next years’ awards …