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Everyone, take your partners

Neither client nor contractor envisaged a partnership when bids were invited for Gillingham Northern Link. It was the best way to deliver a tricky project, though.

Gillingham Northern Link has taken 20 months to deliver and, with some sweat and tears, client Medway Council and joint venture contractor Christiani-May Gurney have developed a close partnering relationship.

'You have to be very committed to partnering. Human relationships are tested by technical problems or when time pressures come on,' notes Medway Council project manager Nick Willson. 'It was getting quite tough towards the end of last year - we became concerned it would be difficult to keep the thing going.'

But, says Willson, the relationship was nurtured through its bad times and now client and contractor have a lot of shared knowledge about partnering. 'That experience should be put into new partnering projects between the same two parties. Unfortunately there's no follow-on project. This is a one-off.'

Gillingham Northern Link, which opened this month, is the final section of the Medway Towns Northern Relief Road.

Christiani-May Gurney project manager Jag Paddam says the two medium- sized firms combined forces to take on a job that would normally have been too large for either. The JV started the £25M contract for the 5.5km link in October 1997 (NCE 4 December 1997).

The JV won on price. It accepted risk for unforeseen ground conditions and for statutory undertakers. But, he states, 'because in urban areas changes are inevitable, we weren't taking risk for changes made by engineers'.

According to Willson, Kent wanted certainty of out-turn, not only of cost but in terms of time too. With 'bitter experience of confrontation', it saw partnering as a way of achieving that certainty and sharing the risk. Payment has been by monthly lump-sum instalments against progress making cash flow predictable for both sides.

At the project's outset Kent County Council the client got together with Christiani-May Gurney for a two-day partnering love-in. An informal ten-point charter was signed, setting out mutual aims. Meanwhile, each week from the start of construction to completion, staff filed forms marking the partnership's success on a bad-good scale of zero to ten.

Because the site is driven through ex-industrial and urban areas it has thrown up its share of surprises, including subterranean air-raid bunkers and unexploded shells.

'It's a right mixture, this job - a bit of everything,' says Paddam.

Client and contractor liaised closely with utilities and services, introducing them to the partnership culture. Principal subcontractors Lancaster for earthworks, Westpile and May Gurney Piling joint venture for piling, and RMC for surfacing, were also brought into the partnership. Without their co-operation progress could have been grindingly slow, says Willson.

And to ensure client and contractor would respond to problems equally fast, the partnership set out a formal trouble-shooting procedure. Willson notes proudly neither side was held up by the other's inaction and the procedure was never invoked.

Nonetheless, he explains: 'We found our fair share of design drainage was in conflict with existing services and there have been changes to the scheme. Problem solving has been almost a day-to-day process.' Medway Council had to modify design as the job progressed - high-value extras included extensive dewatering where the link meets the Medway tunnel 150m from the river.

Value engineering has contributed to streamlining operations and improving cost and time efficiency. Savings have been £800,000.

The JV invited value engineering proposals from everybody. Prizes were awarded each month for best ideas and 150 suggestions were acted on.

Many of these saved only hundreds of pounds, says Paddam. But streamlining of a new 46m span steel-concrete composite rail-way bridge crossing the link saved £125,000.

Though delivery of the project has been fast, work over-ran the JV's self-imposed deadline by a month, but still finished four months early. Medway and Christiani-May Gurney are resolving changes in value of the works at the moment. Willson says these will exceed savings achieved through value engineering.

'But', says Willson, 'although we [Medway] believe in the benefits of value engineering we never expected they would compensate for changes that inevitably come up'. There is no wrangling going on, just calculations to be done he says.

Andrew Mylius

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