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Expect the unexpected

The success of a project can come down to how you deal with unexpected issues says Paul Dalton senior project manager at Mace

As our cities become denser, most new major city developments are facing increasing levels of complexity coupled with limited opportunities to investigate the state of the existing building fabric. When planning any major redevelopment, you typically make allowances for unexpected events by having contingency plans and robust risk management processes in place.

Throughout the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station, we had to maintain its operations throughout, with a train arriving or departing every 37 seconds. We made provisions for the unexpected, but on such a complex scheme you can’t plan for everything and the success of the project very much came down to how we dealt with the unexpected. 

 "The success of Birmingham New Street station very much came down to how we dealt with the unexpected."

The delivery partner model allowed us to choose the best specialist contractors for the task in hand and gave us the added benefit of encouraging a more collaborative approach to tackling problems as they arose. We used a value-based selection process to choose our sub-contractors and to also assess which solution was best for each particular challenge.

One of the key learnings from phase I was to gain access to buildings as early as possible to carry out detailed condition surveys. This was a result of work on the NCP car park, which was originally meant to be retained as part of the scheme but was found to be in a far more dilapidated condition than anticipated. In phase II we invested far more resources into this by working with Network Rail and the TOCs to decant tenants far earlier on in the programme in order to allow us access to the buildings due for demolition far sooner. This included moving London Midland and the British Transport Police into temporary accommodation and moving the completion of the new Lamp Block building earlier in the programme to house existing operations.

The delivery partner model allowed us to choose the best specialist contractors for the task in hand and gave us the added benefit of encouraging a more collaborative approach to tackling problems.

The constant use of the station meant that the time to access the existing building to carry out in-depth condition surveys was particularly limited, so when it came to the unexpected, but very welcome, coup of securing John Lewis as anchor tenant during phase I, we were able to bolster our existing team to meet new demands. As the lower level of the new John Lewis store sits on the first level of the station, it is classified as being “at rail level” and has to meet stringent rail design requirements. To tackle this, we bolstered our team with both rail and retail specialists to integrate the new 24,000m2 store into our existing scheme.

Another unexpected challenge emerged when extensive levels of asbestos were found in the existing 1960s concrete fabric. Once again the delivery partner model enabled the specialist contractor, OCS to be brought in with a substantial work programme of removals, which saw over 60,000 man hours of work. 

No matter how much we plan, when it comes to being on site in an ever changing complex environment, even with the best will in the world, you still in many respects have to ‘expect the unexpected’. The trick is to plan for the unexpected.