Transport projects hit by construction conflicts

Major rail projects also likely to be hit by rush for talent and resources

Hill International's Melvyn Ford says adversarial relations hold back transport projects
Hill International's Melvyn Ford says adversarial relations hold back transport projects

Contractors, clients and consultants need to work together better if the Middle East is to stand any chance of successfully delivering the massive transport projects that are currently underway, according to a panel at Construction Week's UAE Infrastructure Summit.

Melvyn Ford, a vice-president at project manager Hill International, which is working on airport projects in Abu Dhabi and Oman, and railway projects in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said that one of the main problems with the delivery of schemes is that industry relations remain adversarial.

"We don't learn lessons in this region, we say we do but we tend to do things in the same way," he said. "It's been like that for 40-50 years.

"A lot is down to attitudes. We're trained to take positions from an early age. Still brought up in an environment where everyone's first instinct is to protect what they are doing. We've seen this kind of attitude repeated everywhere."

He said that during a long career in working on hige transport projects, only one - in Asia - had been delivered on time and to budget and that was where all parts of the industry took a truly collaborative approach.

"I can't see that will happen in the Middle East. The way things are done here is not conducive to that."

Kez Taylor, chief executive officer of contractor Alec, agreed that the industry "can sometimes be a very negative one".

"In my mind, we are a very reactive industry."

However, he added that there was an opportunity for project teams that were truly willing to collaborate to show that world-class transport projects can be delivered on time and to budget. Alec has worked on several projects at Dubai International Airport, including Concourse D which is expected to complete by the middle of the year, and Taylor said that the key lesson to be learned in the successful delivery of schemes such as this is "getting stakeholders together early".

Harj Dhaliwell, vice president of Parsons, argued that if clients want to make sure projects are handed over on time they have to do "as much pre-planning as possible".

He advises that advanced works packages should be undertaken to ensure engagement with key stakeholders and that projects should be packaged into smaller chunks to make them both simpler and easier to deliver.

Another major challenge that will be faced by governments looking to complete roads, rail and airport projects across the GCC is that there are several mega-projects taking place concurrently.

Graeme Bampton, rail technical director of Aurecon, said that the resource pool of plant, labour and materials "is actually quite limited".

"You can get concrete and steel, but you tend not to be able to get professional engineers. Current projects have sucked up an awful lot of capabilities from traditional markets in Europe, Asia and elsewhere."

Ford agreed, stating that it was already difficult to find top-level staff for some of its Saudi mega-projects. It is currently working on the Jabal Omar Development Project next to Makkah's Grand Mosque, for which it requires around 220 staff.

"We're currently 70 people light on that."

He argued that if 100 people are needed for a role, the ability to attract the kind of experienced people required is always difficult.

As a result, what usually happens is that firms rely on a mix of senior and junior or entry-level staff in order to deliver the work.

"The key people at the top are the ones that make the difference," said Ford. "These are difficult people to get, and once you have them, they will be difficult to keep." 

The panel debate was chaired by Pinsent Masons' head of Gulf, Sachin Kerur.

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