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The Olympic Stadium: a test case for NEC

If you want to see an NEC success story, then take a trip out to Stratford and have a look at the Olympic Stadium. You’ll no doubt be impressed at the results.

On Thursday 29 April 2010, I (and members of the King’s College Construction Law Association) had the privilege of attending a site tour of the Olympic Stadium, led by Gareth Baker and Mike O’Donnell of Team Stadium – and what an impressive tour it proved to be.

The stats

The Stadium’s stats are impressive:

  • It is a two tier construction, with the exception of the West Stand which also contains a mid tier, designed to seat 80,000 spectators, in all.
  • The 10,000 tonne cable roof is an innovative lightweight design, much like the London Eye turned on its side.
  • An immense 1km long compression truss skirts the top of the Stadium.
  • An indoor 60m warm-up track will be built into the West Stand.

Behind the stats

While the stats speak for themselves, there are some key themes underlying the Stadium project which might not be so obvious at first glance:

  • Accessibility – the stadium has been designed so that less mobile people are able to access every part of the stadium.
  • Legacy – while the lower tier will stay, the podium level upwards resembles a huge Meccano set which can be dismantled should the legacy use require.
  • Sustainability – the tubular steel work used in the roof has been constructed from material manufactured for a cancelled pipeline project. The granite sets used have come from the London City Airport project.
  • Health and Safety – despite the scale of the Stadium project, as a result of an effective health and safety regime, there has not been any loss of life on this project, nor indeed the London 2012 project as a whole.

The backbone to the project is the NEC

It is clear that the Stadium is a success story but how do you go about producing such an impressive building? Of course there is a lot of hard work that goes into this, and the contract is there to assist. In the case of the Olympic Stadium this is the NEC.

We have already had an insight from Mark Reynolds into the operation of the NEC in practice on the London 2012 project from the Delivery Partner’s perspective, as summarised in Sam Boyling’s recent post. But what about from the contractor’s perspective?

Importance of the change management process

The change management process appears to be key to the success of the NEC. This process allows for the flexibility of implementing changing requirements with ease as the project progresses creating the ability to make substantial cost savings.

On the Stadium project itself, the original concept for the stadium was formulated with only the requirements of the London 2012 Games in mind. However the 75,000m2 of space required for Games use is not likely to be needed for legacy use. A change in design to accommodate this fact, carried out by the effective use of the change management process, has allowed for significant cost savings to be made.

In the past, commentators have queried the practicality of the change management process, given the administrative burden imposed. However, the Stadium project shows that this process can be managed effectively to produce real benefits. The project also shows that it is necessary to have the right resource to do this. For example, Team Stadium has a team of several planners to deal with the requirements of submitting revised programmes.

Both parties must enter into the NEC spirit

Echoing the comments made by Mark Reynolds, Mike confirmed that it was of paramount importance that both sides (contractor and Delivery Partner/Employer) have a good working knowledge of the NEC and fully enter into the spirit of the NEC. In doing so, both sides are driven to reach agreement on change issues at the time, rather than letting these issues lie dormant until the end of the project.

Good communications and complying with the contractual timescales for reply are also paramount to the successful operation of the NEC. As a case in point, there have apparently been over five thousand contractor communications on the Olympic Stadium project alone.

Test case for the NEC

As Mike and Gareth commented, the Stadium project, having been scheduled as one of the first major structures to be completed, has been used as a test case for the London 2012 project.

Team Stadium is well on track to complete on time and within budget. While this is largely down to the quality of the workmanship on site, it must be the case that the NEC has, in part, played a role in this success.

While Team Stadium has the resources to deal with more than 5,000 project instructions and more than 5,000 contractor communications, not every project will have the capability to deal with such an administrative burden. Is it the case that the NEC can only be used successfully on major civil engineering projects such as the Olympic Games, or is there a way of utilising the effective change management procedures on smaller scale projects? One thing is for sure: the NEC has certainly worked for the Olympic Stadium.

Pinsent Masons LLP Charles Blamire-Brown

4 thoughts on “The Olympic Stadium: a test case for NEC

  1. I think the case for the NEC might be somewhat overstated here. Whether a project is successful or not depends to a large degree on the quality of the people (on all sides) working on it. The Olympic Stadium is being built by a first rate contractor. They also built the Emirates Stadium – on time and on budget and to a fantastic quality. And the contract for that project was the JCT Design and Build Form..

  2. Well I disagree with you there Marc, if you look at the 4th generation of NEC contracts, they are highly suitable for most projects and any level in the design stage. Its not just about good people Marc, no. The contract needs be suitable for all parties, construction firms cannot rely on the good will of a person, but can rely on a bloody solid contract! BTW, I hate JCT contracts.

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