Design changes major factor behind UAE construction disputes

Constant design changes have made the UAE a "rich mine" for construction disputes, an expert panel comprising Laing O'Rourke's Mark Andrews explained

Design changes are major contributors to construction disputes in the UAE, experts have agreed [representational image].
Design changes are major contributors to construction disputes in the UAE, experts have agreed [representational image].

There would be fewer contract disputes in UAE construction projects if major design changes were avoided, a panel of industry experts agreed, adding that these factors have made the UAE "a rich mine for construction disputes".

Mark Andrews, managing director of Laing O'Rourke Middle East, told Construction Week: Leaders in Construction UAE Summit 2018 that design changes were a major issue in the industry.

Andrews said that understanding the causes of disputes was a complex process, with "many answers" to the question. He added: "However, probably 90% of [disputes] come from changes [...] around engineering and design."

The "vast majority" of building models here follow a "construct-only" system, he explained, which compounds the problem. 

"For me as a contractor, construct-only means [you] give me a set of [issued for construction] drawings that are fully coordinated, and we will build it for a fixed price," he continued.

READ: Middle East construction disputes valued at $91m in 2017

"In this market that rarely happens. [Instead,] engineering is pushed out to contractors for tender too soon. When the contractor gets to site, the engineering work is still going on."

Andrews said he'd seen instances of jobs where project changes numbered "thousands or tens of thousands". While getting paid for these variations was "possible", the volume of changes required "a whole army of people", such as engineers, procurement managers, and planners to manage the process.

"Very often, because it’s all coming in late, you need to get additional men, and this may get to the point where you need to change your shift pattern and take on night shifts, which requires extra supervision," he explained.

"Generally, most of the harder disputes are not just about the physical scope."

Andrew Greaves, regional head of construction at Addleshaw Goddard law firm agreed that "a rush to commence projects is an issue", warning that the widespread practice of rushing through designs too quickly could "create a recipe for disaster".

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