Countdown to North West Regional Construction Awards

Place continues its series revisiting winners from last year's North West Regional Construction Awards in the build-up to the 2011 ceremony in May. Here we look at the Business Award winner, the M6 extension Carlisle to Guards Mill.

 North West Regional Construction Awards 2011The business award must recognise examples of innovation and business process improvements in the construction industry, which focus on key business drivers such as quality, time and cost.

The £108m three-lane M6 extension, Carlisle to Guards Mill motorway connects the north end of the M6 at Carlisle to the south end of the A74(M) at Guards Mill, in Scotland. The upgrade has brought considerable road safety and travel time benefits and was the last 'missing link' in the motorway network between Dover and Glasgow.

It had previously been known locally as the 'Cumberland Gap', a bottleneck that had been the scene of several major accidents and regular delays and was, obviously, impacting on local business.

Alongside the new motorway is an all-purpose road for non-motorway traffic, to make local journeys and community access easier and safer. Farm vehicles, local buses, walkers and cyclists no longer have to mix with high-speed traffic and again, local businesses are enjoying the benefits of this.

The project was chosen by the Highways Agency to pilot the use of Six Sigma, a business improvement methodology which seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimising variability in business processes, to develop a structured approach to process improvement as well as financial benefits. By the opening day, the financial benefit was £4.77m and the scheme demonstrated the value of structured process improvement techniques and the business benefits to the clients involved.

The scheme was procured as an Early Contractor Involvement contract, which uses a partnering approach from all parties and stakeholders involved in the scheme. It is well known by those that adopt this process that the potential benefits can significantly help a project and the teams involved.

As a result, much of the planning was done by the contractor, Carillion, and its designer, Capita Symonds, which led to a co-ordinated design approach and ensured best value for money for the client.

The Early Contractor Involvement process also embraced the construction design and management process during the design stage, which contributed greatly to an excellent site safety record, with nearly 1.5 million continuous hours recorded without a reportable accident. The scheme also finished three weeks ahead of time and £20m under budget. Designing out health and safety risks at an early stage ensured that this was possible.

When the project moved to site, a combined Capita and Carillion team provided a rapid response to any problems, risks or ideas.

This collaborative, integrated process led to managers, staff and supervisors all identifying efficiency savings. Carillion also tried to use as much local labour as possible.

A regular team health check was carried out, asking every core member to score the partnership on a number of indicators.

The Highways Agency and Network Rail worked with the team to develop innovative techniques to build the new Mossband Railway viaduct over the West Coast mainline while keeping trains running safely below. These included constructing special cages to protect the workforce from overhead electric cables; building concrete anchor blocks to secure 80ft high rigs installing the bridge's foundation piling, and installing moving gantry systems to build the two 160m long bridge abutments without the use of cranes while trains were running.

The new River Esk Bridge was assembled on the riverbank and launched over the water to avoid the need to work over the river, substantially reducing the danger to the workforce and the threat of pollution to the River Esk.

Much emphasis was placed on incorporating or re-using as much existing infrastructure as possible. The motorway was squeezed underneath three existing overbridges, which were repaired and repainted; and the existing Esk Bridge was used to carry the northbound carriageway and the all-purpose road.

The Six Sigma pilot has helped develop knowledge management and the Highways Agency has now appointed a senior director to lead the implementation of a Lean Deployment Strategy as a common approach. This should have an excellent affect on its business as Lean is devised to eliminate waste in both resource use and time.

The project will also help Carillion's business as it moves forward: the projects have been uploaded to Carillion's knowledge bank and in-house training courses were developed with the Carillion Academy and Midland Excellence. Carillion is also using the Six Sigma experience on its current A1 Dishforth to Barton contract and the Lean strategy is currently being used by Capita Symonds on a number of commissions for the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive.

Capita Symonds, Carillion, and the Highways Agency believe that the experience of undertaking this project will enhance the way they work in the future and will help increase their business efficiency too.

  • The black-tie awards ceremony and dinner will take place on Thursday 26 May 2011 at Chester Racecourse. Tickets for the awards ceremony and dinner will go on sale shortly, however, if you would like to pre-book your tickets to this prestigious event please email Caroline Ellison on or call her on 0161 448 2424. For further information about sponsorship opportunities please contact Emma Looskin on or on 0161 295 5076.

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