Appointing an equipment hire company to set up on major project sites can benefit both client and supplier, as Margo Cole finds out from the parties involved in an on-site arrangement in east London.
An increasingly familiar sight on the UK’s biggest construction projects is an “on-site” facility provided by a major plant or equipment hire company.
These make it easy for contractors to hire or buy tools and equipment without leaving site, which can be a real advantage if something is needed at short notice or if the job is in a remote location or difficult to get to.
These “on-sites” can be big business for the hire companies concerned, so bidding is highly competitive for the privilege to set up shop.
Speedy Hire has been particularly successful in winning the right to have a presence on some of the UK’s biggest construction projects and currently has London outlets at One New Change, The Shard and the Westfield Stratford City retail and leisure complex next to the Olympic site.
“We’ve been doing on-sites for a long time in places where it’s difficult to get to,” says Jean-Pierre de Lasalle, project manager for the Speedy facility at the £1.45bn Westfield Stratford City development. “Originally for us it was about getting our name in there and supporting our customers.”
At Stratford, Speedy provides everything from vehicles and light plant to tools and generators, and also offers fully managed site accommodation for the contractors working on the job. “Westfield informs us about each package as it is let,” explains de Lasalle.
This enables the company to contact each new contractor letting them know the rate for accommodation, as well as giving Speedy an idea of which trades will soon be arriving so it can stock the appropriate tools and equipment.
“Ultimately we make our money out of the subcontractors, but Westfield is our route to market,” adds de Lasalle.
Although many of the contractors working on the job may already have hire arrangements with other firms, they still find it useful to have the on-site facility, particularly if they need something unusual or at short notice.
Westfield controls deliveries to the site extremely carefully - in part because getting to the job involves passing through the Olympics site next door.
All deliveries have to be booked by 11am for delivery the next day, using a central booking system. Delivery drivers are given a specific time slot and issued with GPS-linked passes, so the logistics manager knows if they are on site at the appropriate time. If they don’t arrive within their slot they can’t get in.
But Speedy’s drivers can come and go with far more freedom, so if equipment is ordered through the on-site and is not in stock, the company can collect it from a nearby depot and deliver at any time.
The hire firm won the right to set up “on-site” partly because of its success running a similar operation for Westfield when it took over construction of a retail and leisure development at White City - now known as Westfield London.
But what advantage does it bring to the client? According to Westfield design and construction director Keith Whitmore, the presence of suppliers on site is part of a wider focus on innovation and efficiency.
The company takes on every aspect of the development process itself, from design and construction to leasing the retail and leisure units. It uses a fairly traditional procurement route to appoint contractors for the various elements of construction, believing this is the best way to make the process as efficient as possible.
“These are huge, complex buildings that require huge volumes of materials, plant and equipment,” says Whitmore.”Because time is money, we want to build these things in a way that allows us to build efficiently, systematically and quickly, and to build it only once.
“Because of the size, we have to think outside the box in terms of putting things on the ground in the time we’ve got.”
Feeding the five thousand
At peak there will be 5,000 people working on the site and all of them have to get on and off easily and be provided with welfare and canteen facilities.
“Diverse trades, a diverse workforce and diverse skills are all coming together to create Stratford City in a prescriptive timeframe,” says Whitmore.
“When you think of everything else that’s going on here, we’ve not only got the logistics of getting everyone here - we have to get them through the Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA’s) operations. Materials on this site have to come through gates that are controlled by the ODA, so we have to work very closely with them.
“We also have to feed everyone and provide accommodation, and on top of that they need a variety of equipment to do their job. If it doesn’t come in on a lorry, how does it get here? A lot of the workforce get here by public transport, so how we provide accommodation, facilities, tools and equipment to this workforce means thinking slightly differently.”
Whitmore was keen to avoid “hundreds of villages” springing up on the site to accommodate the 100-plus different contracting firms expected.
“That wouldn’t be very organised,” he says. “We decided very early on to think of a better way of doing this.
“Every contractor needs an office to manage their works, and needs plant and equipment to facilitate their works, so we started to look at companies that could provide accommodation of the size and complexity we need; and who could bring it in and take it away at very short notice.
“We wanted to create a contractor environment that all looks the same and is built to the same standard.”
“We wanted to create a contractor environment that all looks the same and is built to the same standard”
The new complex, made up of temporary accommodation units stacked up to four high, is located near the main security gate and close to canteen
and welfare facilities. Speedy brings the units in, fits them out and provides all the services from electricity and comms to cleaning.
The other benefit Whitmore sees of having an “on-site” is the nucleus of plant and equipment always available. “From my perspective that is enormously useful because the reaction time of the contractor is shortened,” he explains.
According to Whitmore most contractors see the benefit of the on-site facility, although none are forced to use it. “It’s a complex system for getting materials on site here, because of things like security, crane lifting plans and having to book in advance to get something through the gate,” he says. “If you can pick up the phone from one source, most take that option.”
At the Stratford site ICI has set up a similar facility to supply paint. “If a retailer takes a shop unit and wants to fit it out, we have the facility that we can provide almost the entire package of plant, equipment and materials delivered here,” says Whitmore.
The massive Westfield Stratford City development, with its 170,000m2 of retail space, sits next to the main Olympic park, and is due to be finished next year.