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Interview | Chris Taylor, Highways England

Chris taylor 2016 (4) cropped

He is in charge of a project portfolio worth £8bn, but Highways England’s complex infrastructure programme director Chris Taylor is watching every penny.

That is one of the reasons why he reorganised one of Highways England’s largest ever road projects on the A14 to ensure the project’s success.  

When talking to Taylor, he answers questions with considered words, taking an approach which perhaps explains why he was chosen to lead the complex infrastructure programme (CIP).

Aerial view of the bypass outline cropped

Aerial view of the bypass outline cropped

A14: Highways England has learned valuable procurement lessons

The programme will sit outside Highways England’s New Routes to Market procurement framework and comprises three of its biggest ever projects with a combined value of around £8bn: the A14 upgrade, A303 Stonehenge tunnel and the Lower Thames Crossing. The thinking is to share learning between the projects by bringing them under one umbrella. The A14 upgrade is worth £1.5bn, the A303 £1.6bn and the Lower Thames Crossing a whopping £4bn to £6bn.

“We wanted to create a focus for capability within the business, to build our expertise and knowledge to build complex, nationally important infrastructure, and it all started with the A14,” he says.

Taylor studied engineering design and appropriate technology at Warwick University, had a stint at Oxford University’s Said Business School, and brings cross industry experience having worked at Veolia Water Southeast before moving to Highways England in 2012.

The A14 upgrade programme in rural Cambridgeshire involves widening 11.3km of the A14 in each direction in two sections; building a major new bypass south of Huntingdon; widening a 4.8km long section of the A1; and demolishing of a viaduct at Huntingdon.

The contract for the improvement works was procured through the collaborative delivery framework (CDF) which Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan recently described as “hard work”.

Safety will drive a lot of the focus for the schemes going forward

One area which it failed to get right, says Taylor, was the technical partner role. An Aecom/Arup/Jacobs joint venture was employed to take the scheme through to

development consent.

The role was re-tendered after development consent had been obtained and was won by an Atkins/ CH2M joint venture. In hindsight, Taylor believes that re-tendering the role hampered the project’s progress.

Continuity issues

“While both teams did a good job, there was a loss of continuity, which was loss of knowledge on that phase, which if I had my time again, I wouldn’t have done,” he says.

“If you look at the technical partner relationships we’ve procured on the Lower Thames Crossing and Stonehenge, the technical partnerships are for the life of the project which is a good example of continuity for the project.”

The contracts to build the A14 were originally let in geographical sections. Two, with a total value of £598M went to  a Costain/Skanska JV. These were for construction package 1, covering the A1 at Alconbury to the East Coast Mainline, and package 2, covering east of the East Coast Mainline to Swavesey.

Evolving A14 procurement

A third package was also put out to tender, but only the Costain Skanska JV met the requirements of the framework. As a result, this section had to be retendered as Costain/Skanska had already reached the maximum amount of packages it was allowed to take on.

Following the re-tendering exercise, the £292M construction contract for package 3, between Swavesey and Milton, was awarded to a Balfour Beatty/Carillion JV in September 2015.

However, following the exercise, Taylor said the decision to split the project into three sections made no sense as many of the challenges which the project faced were across the length of the site.  

“The opportunity to do better was always bound up linearly along the site,” he says. “If we sliced that into a set of contracts where there was no coherence between them, then you’re not able to exploit the opportunity.

“Where that takes you, is a single project delivery project entity.”

Need for coherence

“Subsequently the job was reorganised into six sections with a single delivery entity, a “Super JV” between Costain, Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Skanska.

Taylor says all parties within the supply chain have signed up to a common incentive for the project, based on cost, time and customer service.

At times, he says, it has been challenging. But there are lessons to be passed on to the CIP’s two other projects. “What do we need from the supply chain to be successful?” he asks. “It’s absolutely the leadership, it’s the systems and tools to drive that productivity and performance.

“We’ve created that on the A14, but actually we needed that there from the beginning. So how do we get that from day one, so we don’t have to take time to invent it?”

Safety focus

Safety will also drive a lot of the focus for the schemes going forward, he says. Innovations to separate people from plant on site during construction and to separate workers from live traffic during construction and in the operational and maintenance phase will underpin every decision made.

For example, it wants the industry to think about how it approaches the design of haul roads, borrow pits, drainage design and to consider doing survey work using drones to limit the number of workers on site.

With such huge projects throwing up every conceivable risk, he wants that thinking to start at the concept stage.

Taylor says because of the size of the projects, Highways England has the opportunity to positively influence the industry. He wants to see the productivity benefits and uptake of innovations and new technology cascade down the supply chain.

Such is the importance of the A14 scheme that Highways England has received all its funding from the government. But it will seek private finance to fund the Lower Thames Crossing and the A303 project using the PF2 contract.

Private finance and quality

He says the fear that roads built with private finance will lead to a decline in quality by cutting out “expensive” factors such as environmental mitigation is misplaced.

“The concern is that under private finance, those things get watered down,” he says. “But the development consent order will be between us and the Planning Inspectorate, and it’s only after those things are confirmed that it will flow contractually to

private finance.”

Taylor says halfway through its first roads investment strategy (RIS 1) – which runs from 2015 to 2020 – he is pleased with the progress Highways England is making.

“If someone had offered three years ago that half way through the RIS we’d have the A14 in construction, the Lower Thames Crossing and A303 preferred route announcement made by government, plus we’d have a team of 80 people with incredible leadership which we’d recruited, I’d have bitten hand their off, their arm and had a good gnaw of their shoulder too.

“It’s an incredible place to be half way through the RIS.”



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