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Metrolink goes back to square one

Tom Cullen and Russ Lynch report from the Mipim property festival in Cannes, where regeneration and major projects were at the e top of the construction agenda

THE FINAL two consortia left in the hunt for the £900 million Manchester Metrolink extension have been binned in favour of a mass retender.

Four and a half years since first registering an interest in the troubled scheme Greater Manchester Tramways (Mowlem/ Nuttall/Virgin/Stagecoach) and the Manchester Tram Company (Serco and SNC Lavalin) are back to square one.

The project suffered a severe blow last August when transport secretary Alistair Darling removed Government funding after costs ballooned.

Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, Manchester City Council and nine other Greater Manchester councils have been fighting to get the scheme reinstated ever since.

But the efforts so far to get the scheme built have been wasted and a new notice is expected to be put in the Official Journal within three months.

Speaking at Mipim, GMPTE chairman Chris Mulligan said: 'We had two very good consortia who spent millions on bids before it was all called off by the Government.The bottom line is that the Design, Build, Operate and Maintain system is dead and we don't know what shape the eventual contract will take.As far as contractors are concerned, it is an open race.'

Mr Mulligan also underlined a growing distrust in the tram industry, which he admitted had been shaken by the problems at Metrolink.

He said: 'I'm not sure the Government knows how much damage it is doing to the private sector's confidence in the light rail industry by blowing hot and cold like this.

'This, along with problems at Railtrack and the Strategic Rail Authority, have combined to generate a strong pessimism at the banks that can finance such schemes.

Let me make it clear that it was these banks and the Government that lost their nerve and not the consortia that were bidding.'

A preferred bidder for the work is not now expected to be named until 2007 at the earliest.

Housing: Thames Gateway presents huge challenge to the industry

ENGLISH Partnerships'Thames Gateway director, Ralph Luck, warned last week that the construction industry had its work cut out to meet housing and infrastructure demands in the region, writes Russ Lynch.

Speaking at a Mipim event on London regeneration last week, Mr Luck called for local authorities to work with house builders to cope with the demand.

He said: 'In Greenwich things are already coming out of the ground and that site could produce 13,000 homes in total.Another 10,800 homes are planned on the Barking Riverside scheme - a planning application for that has just gone in and this time next year that should be starting.

'There are very big challenges in the M25 boundary.The public and private sector will have to really get their heads together on things like infrastructure.'

He added: 'The issues we have to address are not only funding but a programme for doing it.They can't all be built at the same time.

'To get delivery one or two local authorities will have to take a view on when it is going to happen.

Construction won't be able to take it, and the market can't take it either.'

A joint venture between building firm George & Harding and consultant Buro Happold launched a modular housing system at Mipim in response to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's challenge to developers to build affordable housing for less than £60,000.

The joint venture, Verbus Systems, said its singleroom 'building blocks' can be stacked up to 16 storeys high and are ideal for key worker accommodation, residential care homes and social housing.The units can be locked together to form the combined structural core and frame of the building with cladding, roofing and other elements also able to be fitted to the structure.

'Complex'PFI hampers good design

DIRECTORS from consultant WS Atkins complained that the Private Finance Initiative was working against good design on public building projects, writes Russ Lynch.

Valerie Evans, Atkins'project director on the Sir Robert McAlpine-led PFI project to revamp Colchester Garrison in Essex for the Ministry of Defence, said the complex contractual arrangements in the process put a wedge between designers and the client.

She said: 'We are employed by the contractor, who is contracted to the PFI special purpose vehicle, who is in turn employed by the client.

'In the end we set up fortnightly project team meetings to make sure that we could talk to the end user.'

Fellow Atkins director Stephen Reiffitt said: 'At the end of the day the contractor is still calling the shots on PFI and cost is still being put ahead of design quality.But good design isn't necessarily more expensive.'

The comments come as a House of Commons report published last week condemned the quality of new public buildings under PFI as 'patchy' and called for design considerations to be incorporated into the funding process to ensure a higher quality of design.

Gateway training charter

REGENERATION agency Kent Thameside launched a training charter at Mipim to encourage developers and contractors to use more apprentices on the Thames Gateway regeneration, writes Russ Lynch.

The charter, Construct Kent Thameside, urges developers and house builders to create training opportunities for workers local to the region.

House builder George Wimpey has pledged to make places for nine apprentices on its Dartford Park residential scheme.

Paul Warren, Kent Thameside's construction initiatives manager, said: 'We will be looking for contractors and suppliers to commit to the charter and say how they're going to make placements available when they're putting in prelims for work.

'We are not committing to a definite number of apprentices by a certain date because a lot of stuff is still in planning, so we don't know when building will start.'

Kent Thameside is also in talks with industry improvement body Constructing Excellence over ways to highlight building work in the region as examples of industry best practice.

Bovis Lend Lease gears up for expansion

BOVIS Lend Lease managing director Jason Millett told Construction News the firm was looking to recruit around 400 new staff in the UK, writes Russ Lynch.

Mr Millett said: 'We are not looking for any particular categories of worker but we need the staff as we expand in line with our business plan.'

The Anglo-Australian firm currently has around 1,200 staff on its books in the UK.

Mr Millett added: 'We are not going to be chasing turnover. Increased profit is the only thing worth chasing.'

Mr Millett said the firm was chasing opportunities through its urban communities business, focusing on Government priorities such as key worker accommodation.

Bovis Lend Lease - heavily involved in the redevelopment of the Greenwich Peninsula in south-east London - is eyeing up at least eight other projects in the capital and the south-east over the next 10 years, which is set to see thousands of new homes being built in the region.