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Letters NEC defended (again)

ANALYSIS; The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail: and reserves the right to condense.

Sir Alan Muir Wood again raises the question of the use of the NEC for tunnelling projects (NCE last week). His view is based on two misconceptions.

First, he complains that the NEC subdivides design from management. I suspect this may be a residue from his earlier complaint that the 'engineer' is not named as such in the NEC.

The project manager takes responsibility for the management of all aspects of the construction works on the client side - including design - in much the same way as the 'engineer' under the traditional ICE form.

One distinction is that under the NEC the project manager has much greater knowledge, understanding and control over the contractor's work methods than before. As under any form of contract, the engineer/ project manager may or may not be the 'designer' of the scheme. Elsewhere, Sir Alan commends aspects of the NEC, including its flexibility. It seems that, in tunneling, he feels we should deny flexibility lest people get it wrong.

Second, there is a reference to the NEC stating that the design function should be complete at the time of tender. This is not correct. The only link between the design stage and tender is that the contractor's pricing is based on the stage of design at tender. The contract deals sensibly with the development of the design post tender - by either the contractor or employer - through the choice of options and the compensation event procedure.

In addition, the NEC expressly provides for design by the contractor in a way other forms do not.

Sir Alan makes a final suggestion that the matter of risk sharing is not adequately treated in the NEC. On the contrary, this contract is unique in the way it deals with risk allocation in contract preparation, and its process for handling risk events during construction.

The contract form by itself cannot ensure success. All forms (including the NEC) open to abuse by both employer and contractor.

Working arrangements must be carefully thought out and implemented, and parties must work closely together. The NEC is aimed at cooperative working to achieve the employer's objectives, and thus is better placed to achieve success than most.

The NEC is, in fact, ideally suited for tunnel construction.

Peter Higgins (F)

Chairman, NEC Panel, Regional Director, Symonds Group, Symonds House, Wood Street, East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 1LZ

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