NEC contracts have been used to deliver a major new highway in north-west England. Named Edith Rigby Way, the new 4 km dual carriageway on the west side of Preston in Lancashire links the M55 Preston−Blackpool motorway in the north to the A583 Blackpool Road to the south. The £207 million project includes a new motorway junction, two viaducts totaling 0.5 km, two bridges, three underpasses, a shared cycleway and footway, and 3.8 km of single carriageway link roads.
The client, Lancashire County Council (LCC), initially engaged contractor Costain for early contractor involvement under an NEC3 Professional Services Contract (PSC) in February 2016. In October 2019 the works were awarded to Costain under an NEC3 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option C (target contract with activity schedule). Design support and contract supervision commercial management was by undertaken Jacobs through its long-term NEC3 PSC framework, and LCC acted as NEC project manager and supervisor. Each subcontractor was engaged under an NEC3 Engineering and Construction Subcontract (ECS).
Major construction challenges included installing four 48 m long, 130 t weathering steel bridge beams over the M55 motorway between piled abutments during two nighttime closures in June 2021, creating a new junction. Two further nighttime closures were required to complete the in-situ deck of the single-span junction crossing, known as Becconsall Bridge, and to demolish an existing footbridge. The 233 m long Lea Viaduct had to cross both the Lancaster Canal and Preston−Blackpool railway, requiring a two-day rail closure over Christmas 2020, while the 278 m long Savick Brook Viaduct over the Ribble Link navigable waterway needed ground support from a total of 158 piles 42 m deep.
Despite the additional challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, a subcontractor insolvency, high inflation and challenging ground conditions, the road is due to open on time and within budget in spring 2023. It will help to promote new housing and business development in the area and has increased capacity on the local road network.
The client’s project manager, Phill Wilson, says the desired collaborative behaviours and working practices for the project were initially established through early contractor involvement (ECI) using NEC3 PSC. ‘The purpose of the ECI phase was to provide constructability and value engineering advice, during which the integrated project team quickly developed a culture of collaborative working. The NEC’s required “spirit of mutual trust and co-operation” was fostered by working together to achieve shared goals from the outset, enabling us to achieve significant value engineering savings and certainty of delivery.’
He says continuity of personnel within the project team from the ECI phase to construction brought a significant benefit to the project. ‘This ensured that the trust, relationships and collaborative behaviours developed during ECI carried seamlessly through to the construction phase. This culture of trust also enabled the use of technology to maximise data sharing and innovation adoption.’
Costain’s project director, John Holding, says the NEC-inspired open and transparent approach enabled the project team to achieve further efficiencies during construction. ‘The use of NEC3 ECC Option C with a 50:50 pain−gain share percentage ensured all parties were equally focused on value engineering. Furthermore, Costain used NEC3 ECS with all its subcontractors to ensure collaborative behaviours flowed down through the supply chain.’
In addition to ad-hoc risk management meetings to deal proactively with NEC early warnings, the client’s commercial manager and Jacobs associate director Hayley Drever says the project team established fortnightly meetings where issues could be openly and frankly discussed. ‘This allowed a retrospective review of issues to establish lessons learnt, as well as looking forward and mitigating future risks. The meetings had a no-blame culture and an overall focus on the project, ensuring all parties felt they could be open and honest without repercussions. This also helped to focus on parties most able to mitigate risk, ensuring benefits for the overall project irrespective of contractual risk.’
Drever says commercial management was a key focus. ‘The team established agreed processes and principles early in the project for assessment of NEC compensation events to ensure timely agreement. The focus was always on proactive management of change to ensure that instructed changes were dealt with promptly.’
She concludes that NEC processes and behaviours helped the project team successfully overcome many challenges faced during delivery. ‘Despite numerous unforeseen events including nine weather events, a global pandemic, insolvency of the steelwork subcontractor, escalating inflation, and challenging ground conditions that resulted in a piling redesign, the project team focused on overall project success rather than individual party benefits. This ensured that this important new highway will be finished on time and under budget in Spring 2023.’
Benefits of using NEC
- Using NEC PSC for early contractor involvement delivered significant value-engineering savings and helped to create the desired collaborative behaviours and working practices from the outset.
- NEC PSC, ECC and ECS requirement to work in a, ‘spirit of mutual trust and co-operation,’ ensured collaborative behaviours flowed from ECI through to construction, including along the supply chain.
- NEC ECC Option C with a 50:50 pain−gain share percentage helped to ensure the client and contractor were equally focused on value engineering.
- NEC early warning and compensation event process helped identify and mitigate project risks throughout construction, ensuring this challenging project finished on time and under budget.