Sir Alan Muir Wood's destructive comments on the NEC following the HEX tunnel collapse trial (NCE 18 February) have to be refuted.
According to Sir Alan, the main cause of the collapse was that 'all engineering of the NATM process - including quality control - was devolved to the contractor'. He then criticises the use of the NEC on the project as if this necessarily leads to devolution of the engineering process and quality control to the contractor. This is quite wrong. The NEC, unlike older standard forms, gives those setting up the project flexibility to allocate responsibility entirely as they see fit.
Sir Alan says that, when he saw the draft of the NEC, he 'expressed astonishment that the concept of the engineer was to be abandoned without any other mechanism for providing the engineering continuity essential for the project'. The reality is that the NEC gives more opportunity for continued engineering involvement on behalf of the employer than any of the old standard forms.
Sir Alan is perhaps furthest off beam in saying that the NEC effectively prevents 'co-operation between design and construction to optimise a project and resolve problems'. We are particularly proud of the NEC's innovations in this area.
The basic pricing mechanism in the NEC is the only one in a standard contract to have been designed explicitly to enable decisions to be made on behalf of the employer, with the contractor's help, which balance price, time and function considerations, coupled with consideration of the technical and other risks attaching to the remaining work.
Second, the NEC is the only standard contract which provides options for pricing mechanism so that, for example, those acting for the employer can in extremis take full control of the work done. Third, and perhaps most important, the NEC is the only standard contract which has a fully worked out process for giving early joint consideration to unexpected problems with clear responsibility for the resulting decisions.
Dr Martin Barnes (F) Head of NEC drafting team, Cornbrash House, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire OX5 3HF