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Costs soar point


During the 1980s and 1990s, governments supported moves to sideline the role of civil engineers in construction projects. The role of the Engineer was effectively abolished and control of projects was handed over to contractors, under term agreements, partnering deals and design and build contracts.

In-house expertise was out and outsourcing was in. Evenhanded standard contracts like the old ICE Conditions of Contract have been dumped in favour of one-off complex, onerous documents drafted by expensive lawyers which tried to define requirements and also to maximise risk transfer (often regardless of cost).

Lastly, instead of using the cheapest source of finance (government borrowing), projects now rely on private borrowing under complex PFI deals drafted by yet more expensive accountants and lawyers. It is now common on a construction project to spend far more on fees to lawyers and accountants than to engineers and architects.

In these circumstances, perhaps the soaring infrastructure construction costs that Alistair Darling complains about should not really come as a surprise (NCE 22 July). Experience at Network Rail has shown that when the people who are actually trained to run civil engineering projects - civil engineers - are put back in charge, costs are lower and the work is done better.

Ex-lawyer Darling may find this hard to swallow but it is true - and the ICE needs to take the time to explain it to him.

A N Beal (M), a. beal@btinternet. com

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