New Thames Tideway Tunnel chairman Sir Neville Simms has urged contractors bidding for work on London’s new super sewer to find better ways of doing the job.
Simms, whose appointment to the helm of the independent infrastructure provider was announced this week, told NCE he wanted to see innovation from contractors and subcontractors.
Eight teams have been shortlisted across three packages that make up the £2.3bn main construction phase of the scheme, with the first set of tender documents released last week.
Simms said: “We will be working under NEC3 contracts, which really encourage collaboration between client and contractor.
“There is an overarching specification for this project but there is room for contractor collaboration and one hopes [the bidders] will use that to come up with ideas that can be incorporated into the scheme.
“Innovation, collaboration and co-operation are important - this is the modern way of building things and seems to go extremely well on large projects these days.”
Simms, who was knighted in 1998 for services to construction, said he would like to see contractors at all levels trying to find better ways of tackling the tunnel project.
“I hope it goes down the supply chain,” he said. “The contract helps and encourages people to do that; there is a gain share, the NEC3 allows for that.”
The former chief executive of Tarmac and one-time chairman of Carillion said the Thames Tideway Tunnel client was learning from another major London tunnelling project.
“Crossrail goes before us and there are all sorts of things to learn in terms of logistics, underground conditions and labour requirements,” he said.
“The team here has been learning from Crossrail in areas including traffic management; how to deal with local communities; how to be a good neighbour; and health and safety. There is an open dialogue between the teams - they are happy to share and we are happy to learn.”
Simms said his decorated civil engineering background, which includes senior roles on the Thames Barrier and Channel Tunnel schemes, would stand him in good stead for his new challenge.
“There are two things that I hope my experience will be particularly helpful for,” he said.
“I am a civil engineer and have been involved in many big infrastructure projects. Perhaps as importantly, particularly for this role, is funding and financing.”
Simms was a founding member of the Private Finance Panel established by then chancellor Ken Clarke in the mid-1990s to champion the use of private finance in public infrastructure schemes.
He was also chief executive of Tarmac when the company secured formative private finance initiative (PFI) deals for Fazakerley Prison on Merseyside and for Dartford and Gravesham Hospital in Kent.
“We helped change the legislation so those projects could be done through PFI,” said Simms.
“This scheme is a development of the original private finance thoughts. The delivery model - the regulated infrastructure provider - is an advancement of the way that private money can be brought into public schemes where the consumer must be protected by a regulator.”
Securing finance for the Thames Tideway Tunnel is toward the top of his to-do list.
The project is expected to be financed and delivered by an independent infrastructure provider with its own licence from water regulator Ofwat.
“Attracting investors who will want to invest through the construction period and the longer-term regulated utility period is a key aspect of the scheme and one I hope fits reasonably comfortably with my background,” said Simms.
“It is too early to say how we will look to attract finance - but I think it will be an enormously attractive scheme to invest in.
“This tunnel is being built with a 120-year life; it is going to last virtually forever and there will be a dividend stream from that for investors. Yes it will be a regulated scheme but there is no reason to suspect it will not be regulated at an attractive level for investors, both in the construction phase and in the longer-term utility phase.”
The competition to fund the scheme would be open and transparent, he said, with clear rewards and risks outlined.
“The same type of people who are currently involved in investment in water companies should be attracted to this - I’m not expecting a new group of investors to appear.”
The Thames Tideway Tunnel is required to help prevent discharge to the River Thames of untreated sewage from London’s Victorian sewerage network. Currently as little as 2mm of rainfall can trigger a discharge to the river’s tidal stretches in central London.
Simms said he was first attracted to the huge job by a speech made by Thames Water’s managing director of the scheme Michael Gerrard.
“A lot of work has been done by the programme management contractor CH2M Hill and by the team led by Michael Gerrard for three years,” he said. “It was a speech by him one lunchtime 18 months ago that attracted me to the scheme; he reminded me of the need for us to be providing these legacy projects that go well past our use and into future generations.”
Hinting that it may be his last scheme, he described the Thames Tideway Tunnel as his “swan song”, but insisted he had no personal need to produce a lasting project, having worked on major schemes already in his career.
“One of the pleasures of being a civil engineer is going around the country and seeing things you’ve built,” he said. “My wife is bored out of her mind with me pointing out my first bridge and my first power station.”
The Thames Tideway Tunnel team will work closely with schools and communities to show the benefits of civil engineering.
“It’s important to me – it’s sad that so much of our work is underground and taken for granted that people rarely understand the excitement of creating it and the very high levels of intellect, ingenuity and professionalism needed to create these structures that will last for hundreds of years.”
Sir Neville said he could not take credit for any of the work done on the project so far and had not yet set any targets.
“It is quite a busy year ahead for the scheme and towards the end of the year we will be starting to see exactly how we are getting along.”
He said the existing team had come a long way with the project.
“There is so much work done so far. Someone said to me a lot of the heavy lifting had already been done; I think that’s true.”
One major task ahead of him is building the rest of his team. “It is hoped that by the first half of 2015 the Thames Tideway Tunnel Company will have a fully functioning, fully accountable executive and non-executive board - the analogy used here is the ship will be ready to sail away on its own.In the first half of 2014 we will be building a team for that purpose. It will be a mixture of people already working on the scheme for Thames Water and some new people recruited.”
He said attracting talented people to the team should be easy.
“This is going to be the next big contract to start digging. Crossrail is underway, High Speed 2 is in the future; this sits between the two in the national infrastructure plan.
“All these projects need to be done and we need to do them. We are a wealthy society and we owe it to ourselves and future generations to get on with these projects.
“I am really looking forward to this exciting project. I just love civil engineering.”