No single solution to the construction quality challenge

8 Mar 23
No single solution to the construction quality challenge

There is no silver bullet to the construction quality challenge, said Patrick Brown, head of sustainable construction delivery at the City of Edinburgh Council as he provided the client’s perspective at the joint GIRI/CQIC in Edinburgh in February. Instead, the problem requires layers of solutions working together.

Patrick discussed the City of Edinburgh’s experience as a client addressing the schools safety issue that first came to light after the wall collapse at Oxgangs Primary School in 2016. The collapse was caused by a failure of wall ties in high winds, and the council had to close 19 schools and carry out remedial work as a consequence of the contractor being unable to provide assurance that the same problem wasn’t repeated elsewhere.

“We also instigated the Cole Report, which was a review of the procurement process between 2002-2005. This was an analysis of what went wrong and gave a feel for how every step of the process has a quality element. Some of the issues identified with wall ties and head restraints were not an Edinburgh-only issue, or a schools issue, but an industry-wide issue. The Cole Report was a wake-up call for the industry.”

At around the same time, he added, the City of Edinburgh Council had concerns around the quality of some of the schools being delivered with regards to environmental comfort, for example, overheating in summer, which prompted a review of energy consumption. “Energy consumption has a quality element and quality will be an importance aspect of any net-zero response,” he said.

The review revealed that there hadn’t been an improvement in energy consumption in secondary schools built between the 1960s and 1970s compared with schools delivered four years ago. “For primary schools, there wasn’t a huge difference between Victorian schools and those delivered in the 1930s, 60s and 70s and our PP1 and PP2 estate, and that is a concern. It is a net-zero concern and a quality issue.”

Patrick added that some of the remedial work carried out on schools as a result of the Cole Report was precautionary, because it was impossible to see the wall ties in some of the later schools as the insulation had fallen down within the cavity.

Part of the industry’s problem with quality, he believes, is a reluctance from all the links in the chain to be self-critical. “There’s a ‘nothing to see here’ mentality in the industry. It is also worth noting that the wall failure was a quality issue, but it was also a health and safety issue. We pride ourselves on how we have addressed health and safety in construction, but this was missed along the way.

“We are trying to understand the best, most proportionate way to address quality for us as a client. There isn’t a silver bullet, or one single solution. One thing we are doing as a client is design team quality reporting. We have a specific quality meeting, and at this we have the designers reporting on their own on-site inspections, but this is just one part of the layers of solutions required.”

It is, he said, important to understand what everyone else is doing, and that is where the CQIC comes in. “For us as a client, we see the advantage of sharing best practice, we see the benefits of the dynamic website to inform approaches and provide a source for published documents and learnings, and a wider perspective on the issues. Too often, you have only the client position, or the designer’s position, or the contractor’s perspective. The CQIC brings all these stakeholders together.”

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