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IMAGES: Debut’s quick march towards better building

Raymond Brown is reaping the benefit of Defence Estates’ pioneering prime contracting method of construction procurement. By David Taylor

Prime contractorDebut Services
Main contractorRaymond Brown
Steel frame/floor beamsBillington Structures
M&ELorne Stewart
Fit-outGalliford Try Interiors
BrickworkIrvine Whitlock
RoofingCrendon Roofing Services
FurnitureEllis Furniture

In these days of reduced workloads and mothballed construction sites, it’s good to know that there’s still one major client that is forging ahead with an ambitious £1 billion construction scheme.

And while the credit crunch forces a re-think of the Rethinking Construction philosophy, raising the spectre of a return of the old adversarial mind-set, it’s good to know that this major client is sticking to the open-book partnering ethos it helped to pioneer.

That client is Defence Estates, the MoD’s property arm. And the £1 billion scheme is Project SLAM (Single Living Accommodation Modernisation) through which the Government aims to improve living conditions for its armed forces personnel.

Project SLAM is, like all Defence Estates projects since 1997, being delivered through of Prime Contracting – a procurement model characterised by collaborative working and a simplified supply chain.

The prime contractor for Project SLAM is called Debut Services, a joint venture comprising Bovis Lend Lease, which manages the construction element, and facilities manager Babcock Infrastructure Services.

In line with the prime contracting philosophy, Debut Services has assembled a supply chain of preferred contractors and subcontractors to deliver its project throughout the UK.

The teams vary from region to region and the exact makeup of any given team is decided on a project-by-project basis. In the southern region, Debut’s main contractor is Raymond Brown Construction, part of Raymond Brown Group, a £60 million turnover construction and aggregates group based in Ringwood, Hampshire.

Commando training centre In August this year, Raymond Brown reached a milestone with the completion of Project SLAM’s 10,000th bed-space at the Royal Marines’ Commando Training centre in Lympstone, Devon.

The company is now on site at Bovington Camp, a large military base near Wareham, Dorset, and home to The Armour Centre (formerly the Royal Armoured Corps Centre).

Here Debut Services is building two new accommodation blocks, the latest in a series of developments at Bovington Camp.

These new blocks join three already completed on the site and will be followed by a sixth and final block within the next two to four years.

All the buildings on this site are of brick-clad steel-frame construction, a standard design developed by Debut Services.

“The other type of building is a modular design built to order by Caledonian Building Systems,” says Ray Sims, area manager with Raymond Brown.

“If speed is vital and the client needs to occupy the building very quickly we’ll usually take the modular route. But if we need more flexibility in the design, or site access makes delivery of the modules a problem, then we’ll use steel frame. It’s also pretty quick to build.”

Irrespective of the building method, each block is designed according to the same layout and finished to the same high standard dictated by Defence Estates.

“You couldn’t tell whether the finished building is one of the steel framed ones or a modular one,” says Mr Sims.

The two buildings under construction at Bovington replace an old accommodation block which Raymond Brown demolished earlier in the year.

This building, which was erected in 1939, was one of the Army’s so-called “Sandhurst” blocks, a standard accommodation block built at Army establishments across the UK during the first half of the last century – “the Project SLAM of its day” observes Ray Sims.

To optimise efficiency, Raymond Brown re-used as much of the demolition rubble as possible in constructing the foundations of the two new blocks.

This simple expedient drastically reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill as well as the requirement to import expensive quarried stone for fill. Also reduced is the financial and environmental cost of numerous lorry movements.

Six-figure saving

“We brought in crushing and screening plant so we could process all the material on site,” says Mr Sims. “This is something we can’t do on every site, but here we managed to re-use about 90 per cent of the demolition material.”

It’s an exercise that pays dividends, says Mr Sims who estimates the on-site processing and re-use of demolition waste has saved a six-figure sum on this project.

Also salvaged (to satisfy the local planning department rather than achieve cost savings) is the timber clock-tower which sat on top of the old Sandhurst block.

This is now being re-erected on its own stone plinth in front of the two new blocks. Saving money through efficiency gains is one of the main aims of Prime Contracting. And it’s not left to chance, either.

“We have to deliver a 9 per cent saving year-on-year,” says Mike Hillier, area project manager for Debut Services. This can only be done by taking the lessons learned from each project and applying them on the next. The target cost, guaranteed maximum price contract ensures that the team is focused on maximising efficiency gains, with a pain-gain share mechanism to reward any savings along the way. And the fully partnered, open-book accounting regime ensures that nobody is in the dark when it comes to costs.

“Because it’s totally openbook, you can get more flexibility into the project,” says Ray Sims. “It allows you to start on site without knowing exactly what the end design is – much of the design development doesn’t even start until we’re already on-site, but target costs are always agreed prior to commencement,” he says.

The simplified supply chain structure cuts wastage and helps to give Debut Services a clear view of what’s going on.

“It cuts out a number of interfaces,” says Mike Hillier. “Under a normal JCT contract we’d be dealing with dozens of subcontractors, but here we only deal with Raymond Brown.”

Brown itself manages a team of seven key subcontractors which convene for a weekly co-ordination meeting. And although the partnering setup allows work to start before the design is finalised, design troubleshooting on the hoof is virtually unknown.

“There were four months of design meetings before we started here,” says Mike Hillier. “We never see an architect or engineer on site once we’ve started.”

The team continuity inherent in Prime Contracting, and the continuous improvement that flows from the ‘lessons learned’ has created a supply chain that can respond to the client’s needs at short notice.

Before Bovington Camp, Raymond Brown had completed five new buildings at RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset and three at Lympstone. In both cases, the client added an extra building to its original requirement after work had already commenced onsite.

“We knew these were an option, but they weren’t factored into the original contract,” says Mr Sims. Nevertheless, the Debut Services team structure allowed the variations to be included at little extra cost.

Further projects

At Yeovilton, the extra building was added and completed within the original programme and the only additional cost being the actual build-cost.

At Lympstone, the third building was constructed to a separate target cost and added only eight weeks to the original programme.

With the two buildings at Bovington nearing completion, the focus has already shifted to the next two projects. Four new blocks are now getting underway at the Royal Marines base at Chivenor, Devon, and Raymond Brown is waiting to hear about a similar development, due to start next year at Culdrose in Cornwall.


Launched in December 2002, the original SLAM contract was a five-year framework deal which was renewed for another five years when the initial period expired last year.

Now in year six, Debut Services has another four years of work guaranteed before Defence Estates (as required by European competition law) puts the project out to tender again.

As the acronym indicates, Project SLAM is about raising the standard of the armed forces’ single living accommodation to Grade 1 ensuite standard. The buildings involved are all multioccupancy blocks comprising ensuite single rooms, plus mess and recreational areas, for junior rank soldiers.

The design, manage, construct and maintain procurement route sees Debut providing the buildings on a design-and-build basis with Babcock Infrastructure Services running and maintaining the blocks for seven years before handing over to Defence Estates.


The blocks under construction at Bovington are based on a steel frame with brick cladding on a Metsec steel infill panel system. Interior walls are drylined, taped and jointed before finishing with a coat of paint.

The ground floor is a simple power-floated concrete slab and intermediate floors comprise 250 mm hollow-core concrete beams with a 100 mm power-floated reinforced concrete layer on top.

Unusually, the floor beams are bolted down to the supporting steelwork – a standard MoD security measure to eliminate up-lift in the event of bomb-blast. Both buildings are three storeys in height.

A feature not included in previous SLAM buildings is a ‘grey’ water recycling plant which harvests rainwater from the roof. The water is filtered and stored in a 22,500 litre underground tank and will be used to flush toilets.


With headquarters in Ringwood, Hampshire, the Raymond Brown Group is a £60 million turnover business with interests in construction, aggregates and waste disposal and recycling.

The construction division is by far the largest single business within the group, contributing up to £40 million of group turnover.

Acting either as main contractor or as a subcontractor, the company tackles a diverse range of projects from commercial and public sector building to highways, marine and other civils work.

Windfarm construction is an emerging area of specialisation for the company. Project SLAM represents a relatively small proportion of this workload – between £2 million and £4 million a year, says regional manager Ray Sims.

“It’s a small but key part of our workload. The MoD spend is where everybody wants to be,” he says. The company actually carries out a slightly larger chunk of Defence Estates work as part of the Aspire Defence supply chain – a Carillion/Kellog Brown & Root joint venture delivering the MoD’s Project Allenby Barracks upgrade project.