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10 most-read news stories of 2017: HS2, Grenfell and Carillion

Our 10 most-read news stories of the year included contract wins, corruption scandals, administrations and one sad, untimely death.

hs2 train

HS2 train

Source: HS2 Ltd

1) HS2: Winners for £6.6bn civils contracts revealed

Far and away our most-read news story of 2016, this was the biggest contract award of the year: the seven civils works packages which make up phase one of the £55.7bn High Speed 2.

A string of heavyweight joint ventures scooped the £6.6bn packages in one of the most hotly contested tenders in years. Costain / Skanska / Strabag, Balfour Beatty / Vinci and Carillion / Kier / Eiffage were the big winners, scooping two packages each, while Bouygues / Sir Robert McAlpine / VolkerFitzpatrick secured the remaining package.

The contracts were officially signed weeks later after a standstill period, with construction set to get underway in 2019.

Infrastructure reporter Jack Simpson also analysed what the contract awards meant for the various bidders.

Kevin McKee_Innocent Obiekwe_William Waring_John Zayya

Kevin McKee_Innocent Obiekwe_William Waring_John Zayya

2) Costain/Laing O’Rourke JV manager among four jailed for corruption

In July, four men were jailed for their parts in an operation to make and receive payments in order to win contracts on the Farringdon station project.

Innocent Obiekwe, a senior health and safety manager at Costain / Laing O’Rourke joint venture CoLOR, alongside Kevin McKee and John Zayya of Alandale Rail Ltd and William Waring of Qualitas, were handed jail sentences after pleading guilty to corruption at Blackfriars Crown Court.

Rail contractor Alandale Rail Ltd was also convicted of corruption and fined £25,000.

Mr Obiekwe was responsible for overseeing health and safety procedures on the upgrade of Farringdon as part of Network Rail’s multi-billion-pound Thameslink project, and was nicknamed “our man in Havana” by his co-conspirators for providing confidential information during the tender process for the contract.

Cheesegrater crane incident credit doris ko

Cheesegrater crane incident credit doris ko

Source: Twitter: @dozzauk

3) Cheesegrater struck by 22 Bishopsgate steel beam

22 Bishopsgate is one of the most high-profile construction projects in the UK, and will be the tallest tower in the City of London once complete.

So when news broke in August that a steel beam being lifted by a crane working on the scheme had struck the neighbouring Cheesegrater, it caught the eye of our readers.

The beam “was being lifted from a lorry” and struck the Leadenhall Building “following movement caused by wind”, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Multiplex is the contractor on 22 Bishopsgate and Severfield is the steel frame contractor.

‘Striking’ pictures posted on Twitter showed a hole in the external glazing of the Leadenhall Building.

Anna Stewart chief financial and commercial officer Laing O'Rourke

Anna Stewart chief financial and commercial officer Laing O’Rourke

4) Former Laing O’Rourke CEO Anna Stewart dies after illness

Former Laing O’Rourke chief executive Anna Stewart passed away in October following a long battle with illness, aged 53.

She had stepped down from the role in December 2015 due to ill health, with chairman and founder Ray O’Rourke returning to the position of chief executive.

Mr O’Rourke led the tributes to Ms Stewart, saying that her passing would be “felt deeply” across Laing O’Rourke and the wider industry. “Anna is one of the most impressive and intelligent people I have had the pleasure of working with,” he said. “Her loyalty and decades of service will not be forgotten.

“She was a trailblazer, an advocate for better practice across the construction sector, and a mentor and inspiration to many. She approached her illness with bravery and stoicism, a trademark of her character.”



5) JVs win huge TransPennine rail upgrade deals

In March, Construction News revealed that contractors had been chosen for up to £2.5bn of rail enhancements between York and Manchester, comprising two packages of work on Network Rail’s TransPennine route upgrade.

A JV of Amey and Bam Nuttall was chosen for the largest package, covering civils and electrification upgrades west of Leeds, while an alliance between VolkerRail, Murphy and Siemens secured the package for lines east of Leeds.

Network Rail confirmed the appointments in October.

In November, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne indicated at the CN Summit that work on the upgrades would start in Control Period 6, which is due to run from 2019 to 2024.



6) Rydon in line for £65m west London housing job

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower was one of the biggest stories of 2017 in any sector, never mind construction.

The spotlight initially fell upon Rydon, the main contractor behind the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, but investigations are yet to determine where the blame lies.

The news in June that Rydon was in line to secure the £65m development partner contract for the redevelopment of a housing estate in Ealing drew interest.

The deal will see the contractor finance, develop and submit a planning application for the new development, before demolishing the existing estate and replacing it with mixed-tenure housing, the majority of which will be affordable.

Ask Real Estate_Bauer Millett garage_Manchester

Ask Real Estate_Bauer Millett garage_Manchester

7) Carillion confirmed for £300m Manchester towers

Carillion confirmed in August that it will build a major £300m mixed-use scheme in Manchester being brought forward by Ask – its development arm at the time.

The troubled contractor is set to serve as main contractor for the two buildings, which will be built on the site of the former Bauer Millett Alfa Romeo garage, next to the Beetham Tower and the Manchester Central convention centre.

This story helped Carillion’s beleaguered stock price edge up temporarily after a near-continual slide since the announcement of a major profit warning and the resignation of chief executive Richard Howson in mid-July.

The bounce did not last long, however, and incoming chief executive Andrew Davies has a mammoth task on his hands to turn Carillion around in 2018.

Lakesmere worker

Lakesmere worker

8) Lakesmere Group collapses into administration with 109 jobs lost

In the most high-profile administration of the year, Lakesmere Group collapsed with little warning in early November.

The UK’s biggest building envelope contractor was placed into administration, with 109 jobs lost, following financial challenges “arising from a number of unprofitable contracts” in the specialist’s UK business.

The group’s wholly owned subsidiary McMullen Facades continued trading but fell into administration soon after, before it was purchased by JRL Group.

Part of the Lakesmere group was revived by founder Mark Davey, who struck a deal to buy back some of the business and launched a new company called Kaicer Building Envelope Solutions.

Grenfell Tower fire exterior cladding_JC8T6M-2

Grenfell Tower fire exterior cladding_JC8T6M-2

9) Grenfell Tower: Rydon replaced Leadbitter as contractor

In the second story in our top 10 related to Grenfell Tower, it emerged that Rydon was not the original preferred contractor for its 2016 refurbishment project.

Bouygues-owned Leadbitter was the original main contractor according to a Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council press release from October 2012, with the firm quoting £11.3m to carry out the project.

The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which managed and maintained the council’s housing stock, later put the contract back out to tender, which Rydon then took on for £8.7m.

Leadbitter did not undertake any construction work on Grenfell Tower.

Mark Farmer CEO Cast Consultancy

Mark Farmer CEO Cast Consultancy

10) Tier one contractors ‘no longer in control’

Speaking to Construction News at an event to mark industry progress since the publication of his Modernise or Die report in 2016, Mark Farmer said the woes of tier one contractors showed that the industry was “systemically broken”, as subcontractors “call the shots”.

Mr Farmer said: “What I think it shows is that even in good times main contractors are no longer in control of their supply chain.

“The supply chain is so scarce that they are calling the shots, while subcontractors are not even in control of their workforce. The ability to deliver to cost, time and quality is now under stress – more than we’ve ever seen.”

Mr Farmer reiterated this in November at the CN Summit, where he called for an end to “broken” tier one contracting models.

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