Inverness West Link – Colin Howell interview

Posted on March 21st 2016

by Stephen Nicolson

On Wednesday March 16, Infro editor, Duncan MacPherson, visited the Highland Council (THC) at their base in the former Technical School in Golspie.  He spoke with Colin Howell – Head of Infrastructure – as he set the record straight on concerns raised following our recent post on the Inverness West Link.

Sitting comfortably, we began by asking Mr Howell how the project is progressing since the contract was announced on March 8.  He was quick to point out that the West Link contract is in fact, the second contract handed out by THC.  The first contract awarded was that of the site enabling works, which includes the felling of trees, encompassing environmental and ecological considerations – these works are set to be completed by April 8 this year.  The infrastructure chief confirmed too, that invitations for the new golf course tender will be made available in the near future.

We then asked Mr Howell on the obstacles faced by THC and what solutions were found in order to overcome them.

“This is a major piece of infrastructure”, he said as he was keen to reinforce that there will be challenges ahead.  However, he assures all concerned that challenges will be met with the utmost professionalism and due diligence.  He takes the time to set out STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) – a process that involves looking at factors such as transport objectives, environmental impacts, costs and risks.

Also at the forefront of Mr Howell’s mind was the 400 planning representations opposing option 6 and he shared his thoughts on how THC have tackled the process and arrived at the ultimate decision.

He said: “We have gone through that process and I’m very content that the option that we’ve selected is the right one – but that is not a universally popular decision.”

Delving in to his own experience and intuition, he revisited his initial thoughts by reminding us of the challenges that lay in store but it’s nothing he doesn’t expect from a major infrastructure project.

During Duncan’s chat with Mr Howell, he spoke of the concerns raised in the West Link article (March 8) and he was more than willing to attempt to answer them in as much detail as possible.

To listen to Mr Howell’s chat with the editor in full, please refer to the audio clip below.

Following on from the questions raised, he was asked whether he thought the contract would have been awarded to Wills Bros. Ltd. under the new procurement rules coming into legislation next month, April 2016.  Under the new guidelines, it is said there’s a focus on community benefit, splitting contracts into smaller lots and encouraging innovation.

He reinforced THC position on this by confirming that, “we’ve included community benefit requirements within the West Link project.”

Furthermore, he hailed the efforts of local firms, MM Miller and Morrison Construction, during the successful implementation of the enabling works.

Of particular interest to the editor, he was interested to further understand the contract that was adopted by the West Link project.  Mr Howell went on to explain the stance held by THC in regards to the procurement.

“I’m a huge advocate of NEC, the way we manage the construction phase and the sharing of risks, the way we manage the risk reduction meetings, the coordinated approach that we have to construction has to be a good thing in terms of construction.

“We’ve done a variety of NEC options – lump sums, target cost, cost reimbursables – and it is horses for courses.  You choose the right NEC option to share the risk equitably between the two parties.

“The West Link stage one is an option A – lump sum and activity schedules.  Quite clearly you need to ensure with an option A that you’ve got a well-designed and thoroughly thought through project – which we feel is in the best interests of the Council.”

As our afternoon with Mr Howell drew to a close, we invited him to share any further thoughts he may have on the topic.  As he accepted this invitation he calls on members of the travelling public to remain patient and to utilise the 24 hour helpline on offer to anyone with concerns.

He concludes by assuring THC will do its “best to minimise that disruption.”

Listen to the full Interview: