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Letters: NEC has faults so why did ICE drop other forms?

NEC has faults, so why did ICE drop other forms?

I was saddened to read of the problem on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway prestige project. (NCE 7 October).

Having used the ICE Conditions for many years, and having been involved in the development of the NEC contract during its gestation period and subsequently in its use and in training, I was concerned that the dispute was reported as having apparently arisen from the latter form of contract.

In my experience of the NEC during its almost 20 years’ life, problems and disputes have been caused by three factors:

  • ill-advised changes in the contract including the extra z clauses
  • inadequately prepared documents, for example, a clear line drawn between the design responsibilities of contractor and employer
  • inappropriate allocation of risk between the parties, such as employers placing too much risk on the contractor (which he must price for) in an attempt to optimise protection of himself, without regard to the best interests of the project as a whole.

The flexibility available in the NEC contracts and their management provisions are much more likely to reduce disputes.

  • Bill Weddell (F),

I was not surprised to read the recent article (NCE 7 October) on perceived problems with the NEC form of contract.

Those of us who regularly use the NEC know how often misinterpretations of it can lead to difficulties, specifically that target cost represents a cap to liability or that NEC ensures that a collaborative approach is employed by the parties, neither of which are true.

Doubtless the NEC has its merits, but it is a shame that the ICE rejects the need to keep a range of contracts available, particularly one that is as well understood as the ICE 7th, which emphasises the role of a qualified engineer.

I am sure working members would have appreciated some consultation on the decision to abandon the ICE Conditions of Contract, rather than having other organisations take the credit for maintaining a well-recognised and important part of the Institution’s brand.

  • Chris Milne (M), director, RJM Ground Solutions, Waverley House, 35 Church Hill, Arnside, Cumbria LA5 0DJ

There is another alternative to both the ICE and NEC forms of contract and that is FIDIC’s suite of contracts.

While it is often assumed that the FIDIC forms are intended for international use, they are in fact equally suitable for domestic work. In addition there are FIDIC forms to cover all types of engineering project.

In recent years the major international funding agencies have mandated the use of the FIDIC “Red” book for their civil engineering projects. FIDIC has recently produced a harmonised edition of its Red book to include the funding agencies’ particular requirements.

I recommend client bodies concerned about possible problems from the use of the NEC should take a close look at the FIDIC forms.

  • John Bowcock (F), former chairman FIDIC Contracts Committee, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire,

Stop the special pleading for HS2

I must respond to the special pleading that recently passed for editorial comment by Antony Oliver (NCE 7 October).

No Oliver, we do not crave High Speed 2, nor do we need it.

Its capacity is far from crucial and its economic merit is based on dubious methodology and assumptions. Its regional benefits are illusory, even if London will gain substantially. And if the term “sustainability” is a reference to its green credentials, think again.

We do not need to copy Europe or risk being marginalised economically.

We already have an inter-city network that compares favourably with other Western European countries.

Are we incapable of improvements in our rail infrastructure to meet an uncertain future demand incrementally, and must we lurch into the blind alley that is HS2, driven by the inefficiencies of Network Rail?

Given the optimism bias in such major projects, the costs must be highly questionable, even if already unaffordable.

The only part of the editorial with which I can agree is the need to start today on upgrading the present system.

  • Peter Darley (M), 21 Oppidans Road, London NW3 3A

High Speed and the long lunch

Why do we need high speed rail? Antony Oliver thinks it’s because the other chaps have got it too. The same argument was used in support of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Let’s use existing technology – with video link to work remotely, the first class rail compartments would be empty and it would be a pleasure to drive on our motorways. What are businessmen going to do with the two hours they save? Get more work done, or return to the traditional three-hour lunch?

  • Dr John Billam, consultant,

Energy from storm water

In the Thames Tunnel Major Project Report (NCE 7th October), I note two potentially related aspects: first, the problems of air entrainment and energy dissipation at the influent drop transfer shafts; and second, the requirement for several 3m3/s, 3MW, pumps at the tideway pumping shaft.

Despite the difficulty of handling the dirty water inflow, would it not be possible to design a water turbine generation system for the drop shafts? This would cope with the air entrainment and energy dissipation problems and could produce a considerable proportion of the energy required to power the pumps.

  • DG Wardle (M),

The ICE’s role as representative

Recent correspondence about the ICE’s representations to government seeking an exemption for civil engineers from the proposed cap on immigration highlights to me the concerns of members that the ICE is acting outside its learned society role yet again.

That role was reiterated during the debates about ICE representing members around 40 years ago. Then, it was pointed out that when Thomas Telford was asked to be our first president he accepted only on the understanding that the institution would be for engineering rather than for engineers.

It was argued, if we were to represent members, our charitable status would be lost. Although this could have been overcome by forming an arm’s length body, with a relationship to ICE similar to that the British Medical Guild held to the British Medical Association, the partner members’ argument prevailed. It was following this that many members joined the UKAPE or other trade unions relevant to their employment.

Some years later while working in the civil service I was appalled to receive a letter from ICE suggesting that the functions that civil engineers undertook in the public service would be better carried out by consultants. It was acting as a trade association and making a representation which should have come from the then Association of Consulting Engineers.

Nothing has changed and the now manager/shareholder members are using the ICE to make representation in the interests of employer companies.

  • Harry Valentine, 32 Inglewood Crescent, Hairmyres, East Kilbride, G75 8QD

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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