By Simon Fullalove
NEC contracts have been used to protect over 2400 coastal properties in north west England from flooding over the next 100 years. The work involved upgrading 2.4 km of embankment between Fairhaven and Church Scar in Lytham St Annes, Fylde to withstand waves generated by 1-in-200-year storms in the Irish Sea and predicted rises in sea level.
Client Fylde Council let the Environment-Agency-funded scheme on a design-and-build basis to VBA JV, a joint venture of VolkerStevin, Boskalis Westminster and SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business under two competitively tendered NEC contracts. The scheme was procured through the Environment Agency’s NEC-based Water and Environment Management framework. The initial design and early contractor involvement (ECI) stage was procured using an NEC3 Professional Services Contract (PSC) Option C (target contract with activity schedule), after which the construction stage was awarded under an NEC3 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Option A (priced contract with activity schedule).
The PSC contact was let May 2016 and the ECC contract started in October 2017. The initial scope of the ECC works was completed early and significantly under budget, which helped the client to undertake further environmental mitigation studies to optimise the cost of delivery. Despite Covid-19 restrictions and additional works, the scheme was still completed 6 months early and nearly £0.4 million under budget in June 2020.
The project involved installing a new steel pile cut-off wall in front of the existing stone revetment, using an innovative materials-saving design of circular hollow section piles alternating with three interlocking sheet piles. A total of 28,000 t of sandstone and concrete was then removed from the embankments and processed and reused on site as fill.
The 1.5 km of embankment at Fairhaven and Granny’s Bay was then rebuilt 0.3 m higher with stepped interlocking precast concrete revetment units over a new drainage layer, while the 0.9 km section at the adjacent Church Scar section used flat units. All 3300 revetment units were precast off-site with plastic-fibre reinforcement and metakaolin cement replacement, resulting in a thinner cross-section and significant reduction of embodied carbon dioxide. The works included a new 5.5 m wide pedestrian and cycle route along the embankment crests, car parking, beach-access steps, balustrades, heritage lighting and other street furniture.
Fylde’s chief engineer Stephen Ball says the collaborative NEC suite is standard procurement route for Environment Agency projects. ‘We picked NEC3 PSC option C for the ECI design stage, during which we were able to optimise the design and minimise risks using building information modelling and value engineering in a Prince2 project management environment. With a largely fixed design and scope, we were then able to let the works stage under an NEC3 ECC Option A lump-sum contract to limit our exposure to risk.’
Ball says the NEC contracts worked very well in practice. ‘The NEC obligation for the parties to “act in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation” fostered a collaborative and transparent approach that limited conflicts and claims. The contracts were simply written, set out clear responsibilities for all parties and provided set procedures and timescales for communications and payments. The result was that issues were sorted out quickly, monthly payments were agreed swiftly and efficiently, and there was no exhausting drawn-out final account’.
He says the NEC early warning and risk-mitigation process was particularly effective, ensuring that all issues likely to effect delivery of the scheme’s design and construction were identified and discussed at the earliest opportunity. ‘We also held weekly collaborative planning meetings to identify and resolve issues with regards to programme, cost and quality. Overall this was an enjoyable contract to work on as we all felt part of a team with the same aim, and we are ultimately proud of our achievements.’
Scheme project manager Mike Pomfret, who will be taking up the role of marine and coastal framework manager with the Environment Agency, says, ‘The NEC-inspired collaborative approach on this project worked fantastically well. Success was attributable to robust project and contract governance, efficient planning, innovation by the contractor and a big emphasis on just-in-time deliveries and lean construction. It is a great example of how a local authority can access and use Environment Agency procurement frameworks to enable quick and cost-efficient delivery of publicly funded flood and coast protection schemes.’
Pomfret says significant time was invested during the ECI stage to achieve the most cost-effective environmental mitigation, improve productivity and reduce construction time spent in the sensitive environment. ‘For example, after initial consultation, significant working restrictions seemed likely due to over-wintering birds in the estuary. We decided to wait a winter to undertake project-specific site surveys and question local experts. This showed the over-wintering roosts were not as close as first thought and the further surveys opened up more areas for construction during the winters.
He says productivity was also improved working out how many precast revetment units could be installed in one shift. ‘This was a big challenge given we only had space to store 20 units on site at any one time. Three-dimensional modelling and discussion with the off-site manufacturer allowed us to optimise the unit size, improving transportation and lifting, allowing them to be placed more efficiently and achieving an 80% reduction in the number of special units required.’
Pomfret says that towards the end of the works period the contractor had to change its working strategy because of the Covid-19 pandemic, determining which staff were essential and needed to be permanently on site and which could work from home. ‘Additional welfare facilities were introduced on site to aid social distancing, and all briefings and toolbox talks were held outdoors. Due to changes in the availability of key materials such as concrete and tarmac, the contractor amended elements of the programme to suit. These fast and proactive efforts meant there was no discernable delay from the pandemic to the scheme’s June 2020 completion date’.
Early and Under Budget
He says the contractor delivered the initial scope of the ECC contract 6 months early and £2.3 million under the project appraisal report estimate. ‘This gave us the opportunity to instruct £3.65 million additional work within our £21.15 million budget, renewing Granny’s Bay between the beautiful Fairhaven and Church Scar coastline and creating a Mediterranean amphitheatre effect in sand-coloured concrete, an enhancement by Fylde Council. Including the extra works, the project was still delivered 6 months early and £375,000 under budget, resulting in unit cost of £9,000/m – less than half the cost of all similar schemes in the area.’
The Fairhaven scheme was shortlisted for the Climate Resilience Project of the Year in the 2020 British Construction Industry Awards. Councils wishing to request information and access to the benefits of using Environment Agency frameworks should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benefits of Using NEC
- NEC contract suite provided flexible procurement options, including the NEC3 PSC target contract for initial design and ECI, and the NEC3 ECC lump-sum contract for the works to limit the client’s risk.
- NEC obligation for parties to ‘act in a spirit of mutual trust and co-operation’ fostered a collaborative and transparent approach that limited conflicts and claims.
- NEC contracts were simply written, set out clear responsibilities for all parties and provided set procedures and timescales for communications and payments.
- NEC early warning and risk-mitigation process ensured that all issues likely to effect delivery of the scheme were identified and resolved at the earliest opportunity.