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HS2 chief Simon Kirby backs Sir John Armitt's calls for contractors and designers to merge

HS2’s chief executive has backed calls by new Institution of Civil Engineers president Sir John Armitt for contractors and designers to work more closely together.

Simon Kirby (pictured) said contractors should adopt a more “integrated approach” to the design and construction of major projects, arguing that developing in-house design capabilities would boost efficiency.

Speaking at the Construction News Summit, Mr Kirby said: “From a client’s perspective we want to see that integration because it creates efficiencies.

“It is about getting that interaction – if it is one organisation and one accountability you can get better success.”

His comments came two days after Sir John said UK contractors and designers needed to merge if they wanted to compete with their overseas counterparts.

Mr Kirby said France had successfully used an integrated approach to deliver the Tours to Bordeaux high-speed rail, which is being built by Vinci.

“The project uses Vinci contractors, Vinci designers and 80 per cent of the supply chain are Vinci companies,” he said.

“There is no doubt comparatively that there are efficiencies to be had there.

“But we have to be realistic, it won’t happen overnight.”

Mr Kirby was speaking on a panel with leading figures from Network Rail and London Underground, discussing the procurement and delivery of future transport infrastructure.

Network Rail commercial and development director Neil Thompson said better planning was a crucial part of delivering major infrastructure projects.

Mr Thompson said that many of the problems Network Rail encountered when carrying out its Control Period 5 programme came down to bad planning.

“The crux of the problem for us at Network Rail is our planning,” he said.

“If we could plan better, we could sort out a lot of the short-term issues that our suppliers have.

“If we could have long-term visibility and a fixed plan, we could certainly do things a lot better than we are doing.”

He added that Network Rail needed to give better visibility to the market for the 90 per cent of contracts that have been signed in CP5 because many contractors were still unclear on the timeframes for this work.

The panel also discussed the British construction industry’s reluctance to embrace new technologies and encourage innovation.

Technology company IFS’s global industry director Kenny Ingram said the industry had “quite a long way to go”.

“We still speak to organisations now and they say ‘BIM, oh yeah I have heard of that word’; it is astounding that some of these firms are still like this,” he said.

“Culture is a massive part of this; some are pushing ahead and being receptive but too many are still sitting back and saying we don’t have to change.”

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