Friday, 20th February 2015
  • Giulia Civello (Principal Consultant)
  • Carole Quinn (Consultant)

Engineering the best environment for partnership

Key to the delivery of a successful infrastructure project is an effective working partnership between engineers and environmental consultants. A successful relationship between these two parties provides benefits throughout the project lifecycle and ultimately results in the delivery of a better project for less cost.

Temple Group’s experience on major infrastructure projects has highlighted three key areas which are integral to a successful partnership between environmental consultants and engineers:

  • effective communication;
  • a bespoke team set up; and
  • clearly defined deliverables embedded within an integrated programme.

Combining these factors enables environmental consultants and engineers to form a productive partnership, striking a balance between finding an effective environmental outcome without entailing excessive cost or compromising design feasibility.

Benefits include the development of a more robust design which can withstand challenge, facilitate the gaining of consents, decrease development and capital costs and deliver a project with a reduced environmental impact.

Many of the key factors in realising these benefits have been learnt through Temple Group’s role on major infrastructure projects, including HS2 and the Norton Bridge Scheme, which was the subject of a Development Consent Order application.

Effective communication

Typically, tensions between engineers and environmental consultants result from physical working barriers. The need to react quickly to client demands can often result in a lack of consultation with the environmental team. Co-location breaks down these barriers, creating a cohesive, integrated team who understand each other’s working processes and decision making structure. It promotes clear and efficient communication, which enables a more rapid response to be provided to the client.

Close collaborative working between the two teams facilitates an iterative design process and prevents the development of design options which are not feasible from either an engineering or environmental perspective. A proactive rather than reactive working relationship enables the teams to work together to produce an optimal solution from the outset, rather than providing comment retrospectively which incurs additional time and cost.

Team set up

A dedicated engineering liaison team within the environmental team provides a clear point of contact for the project engineers and controls the flow of information. This also ensures that the engineering / environment interface is clearly visible to the client, something which can be lacking on projects where both engineering and environmental services are provided by a large multidisciplinary firm. This interface provides an important opportunity to critically review and challenge engineering designs ensuring a robust project in the event of challenge.

Multidisciplinary workshops are an important tool to facilitate an integrated approach to design, bringing together environmental and engineering expertise. Workshops are particularly important for the development of mitigation, ensuring that environmental measures are developed in the context of engineering constraints and requirements, and thereby preventing abortive work and additional costs.

“Differing perspectives, opinions and ways of doing things, don’t have to be seen as a negative; it can be the driver for improved performance, the push to go beyond the norm and can be the difference between a good and a great project.” Robert Slatcher, Temple Group

Clearly defining deliverables

It is critical to the success of a project that deliverables are fit for their intended purpose. For the environmental consultant, this is most likely the Environmental Impact Assessment. In order to ensure that deliverables are fit for purpose, they must be clearly defined and agreed by all key parties and the client at project inception. This shared understanding should include elements such as the delivery date, and also the deliverable format. A commonly encountered example which covers both these issues is GIS shapefiles versus engineering CAD files. While the engineering design is often held within a CAD model, the environmental topic teams are dependent on GIS shapefiles to complete their assessment. The conversion between CAD and GIS is not an instantaneous process and requires rigorous checking to ensure that the GIS outputs accurately align with the CAD model. Any agreed delivery dates of an engineering design to environmental assessment teams must therefore build in time for this conversion and quality checking to take place.

This example highlights the importance of mutual understanding between the engineering and environment teams as to the end use of their deliverables, something that is greatly improved through an integrated, co-located team.

The delivery of a robust design on time and on budget is ultimately dependent on inputs being received in good time ahead of a design freeze and the careful sequencing of workstreams across the engineering and environment teams. Therefore, an integrated programme which reflects the interaction between engineering and environment is fundamental to project delivery.

“There will always be a balance between engineering, cost, societal benefit / impact and environmental protection – that is in essence what sustainable development is all about! But as long as each of these factors is given due consideration and dealt in a constructive and professional way, then it will be for the good of the scheme.” Tom Smeeton, Temple Group