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The fun factor

The people building a new sewage treatment works near Port Talbot in Wales are having a whale of a time. Jackie Whitelaw reports on a demonstration project that is teaching construction how to have fun.

The project

Demonstration project 88 is construction of the Afan wastewater treatment works in South Wales. The £30M scheme will biologically treat the waste from the 135,000 population around Port Talbot and Neath. The job links up to an existing outfall and takes waste which is currently only primary treated out to sea. Client Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water needs the scheme to meet EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive standards and to clean up the bathing beaches of the nearby resorts of Aberafan and Porthcawl. Work involves a new treatment plant, modification of three existing pumping stations and an 8km pipeline. An added extra is the largest sludge drying plant in the UK. Design began in August 1997, site work started a year later and handover is scheduled for the end of March 2000.

Hyder Utilities' capital manager Peter Childs sees three clear benefits from Afan's Demonstration Project status. Learning from other demonstration projects and spreading the knowledge of the Afan team are the first, laudable, two but it is the last on his list that catches the eye. 'Enjoying going to work every day' he writes.

The people on the Afan job - from client to the smallest subcontractor - are having a good time. Life is not always perfect but they have created a partnered project organisation that is efficient, co-operative and fun.

At the end of the day they should have sliced 12% off the target cost for the job, with shared savings for all. 'We wanted a partnered scheme from the start,' says Childs. 'We are on a learning journey to improve the way we procure schemes, with an aim of 20% cost savings against current costs.' The group is considering moving from project by project partnering deals to strategic partnering as its capital works programme changes shape with the completion of the last few mega projects.

Though Welsh Water's capital spending will remain about the same over the next five year period, jobs will be smaller but more numerous. They will also require a top of the range procurement approach if they are to be brought in efficiently.

But where does the fun come in? Although one of the objectives in the project's partnering charter is for everyone to enjoy themselves, that doesn't mean it is going to happen automatically. The old chestnuts of personality and trust are crucial. According to Tony Cawley of electrical subcontractor MCS: 'A lot of projects talk about partnering but stick with the traditional attitudes. On this job people have made efforts far in excess of most other sites. The partnering goes right down the supply chain so when you come here you really don't know who anyone works for - their loyalties are all with the Afan project - and it is a happy site.'

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