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Design dearth

ANALYSIS

Once again, my apprehensions about the application of the New Engineering Contract to tunnelling have been misconstrued (Professor JG Perry, NCE 9 September).

I have no doubt that a skilled tunnelling engineer as project manager can adapt the NEC to provide a suitable framework for tunnelling. The substantive issue is whether the NEC insists the skills of a project manager are appropriate for a project which is subject to uncertainty.

One such vital skill, with continuity of design thinking, is that of foresight and anticipation to forestall potential problems, often applying an observational technique. Few of those currently appointed to manage tunnel projects have the powers or ability to apply such techniques, or even to understand the great benefits for so doing, in contrast to the 'zero-sum' alternative of incurring problems and their subsequent recompense through 'compensation events'.

On a question of fact, Professor Perry denies that the NEC requires the design function to be completed by the time of tender. I suggest he rereads the NEC Guidance Notes where, on page 10 against 'Designers', he will find paragraph three to read thus: 'The designer's role is to develop the project design to meet the employer's objectives to the point where tenders for construction are to be invited. If a full design and build contract is envisaged, the designer's role is restricted to providing a performance specification...' There is otherwise total silence on the comprehensive nature of the design process as it should be.

I hope that further embarrassments and high cost overruns on tunnel projects under the NEC do not occur before the defenders of the NEC recognise the need for more specific guidance in its application to tunnelling and other projects subject to high potential risk.

Alan Muir Wood (F), Franklands, Bere Court Road, Pangbourne, Berks RG8 8JY

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