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Balfour Beatty secures last Manchester ring road link

CUT-THROAT tendering for the last section of Manchester's M60 ring road - one of the few major contracts to escape the Government's continuing moratorium on new highway awards - has resulted in this crucial 9km motorway link being built for virtually half price.

Confirmation late last week of Balfour Beatty's winning £50M design and build contract contrasts sharply with the Highway Agency's own guideline price of £75M to £100M published in the European Journal last summer.

And the two year award, signed late April, has been kept under wraps for three weeks to allow the contractor to 'prepare any defences' against possible protester action.

'We regard this contract as low risk and are not expecting any significant protests, but these days we cannot afford to be complacent and have already instigated roving security patrols around the site,' said Balfour Beatty operations director Stephen Tarr.

'We must carry literally all the contractual risk against protesters and plan to have the whole site secure with conventional boundary fencing within a few weeks,' he explained.

Highways Agency project engineer Andy Daws also pointed out that less than a third of the route was a genuine greenfield site. 'The few houses and trees in the way have already been removed and, as this contract forms the final link in a much needed motorway box around the city, it has strong local support,' he said.

When opened in summer 2000, the section between Middleton and Oldham will complete the troubled eastern arm of Manchester's M60, 56km outer ring road. Three neighbouring contracts have already run up delays averaging 40 weeks and cost £184M extra. This latest award comes at least five years late (NCE 1/8 January).

As the first road project to be tendered under the Agency's revamped two envelope design and build contract, virtually all risks, including protester invasion, must be borne by the contractor. Partnering between virtually everyone is mandatory. Tenderers were free to deviate widely from the client's 'illustrative' design prepared by Mouchel Consulting.

The biggest variation by Balfour Beatty and its consultant Gifford & Partners is to scrap the removal of over 200,000m3 of soft peat which lies 5m beneath a 1km length of the route. Instead ground will be strengthened with a £10M concrete raft, founded on over 20,000 piles, cutting costs by around £2M.

David Hayward

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