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Teething problems for ECI schemes

GETTING ROADS contractors involved early in project development is not bringing the expected time savings, the Highways Agency admitted last week.

Under the Highways Agency's early contractor involvement initiative, contractors are taken on to develop schemes ahead of planning inquiries.

Highways Agency major projects director Keith Miller conceded that Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contractors were taking longer than anticipated to bring schemes to the planning inquiry stage.

The Agency had allowed nine months for ECI projects to get from publication of draft orders to public inquiry.

This was achieved by CostainBalfour Beatty on the A303 Stonehenge tunnel project. But others, including Alfred McAlpine's A30 Bodmin Moor to Indian Queens improvement and Interserve/ Hanson's A5 Weeford to Fazeley improvement have taken almost 12 months.

'Experience is telling us that we should be allowing 12 months, ' said Miller.

Overall, ECI is delivering on most of its targets. Targets of 10 months from preferred route announcement to award of ECI contract; 14 months from award of contract to the publication of draft orders; and 15 months from public inquiry to start of works are all being met.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association past president Trevor Walker applauded the process.

'The concept is good. It will clearly speed up the delivery process. At Stoke on the A500, my company Nuttall has just started the construction phase of the first ECI.

'Because of ECI we started construction some two years earlier. And because of our early involvement we've brought significant added value, ' he said.

But he warned that the good work would go to waste if planning delays held up progress.

'It's no use the Agency and contractors expending considerable effort to get projects accelerated if government, ministers or planning, procrastinate at other stages.

'We must make sure they clearly understand the sensitivities of their roles to the process, ' said Walker.

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