Last week the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA-AITES) signed an agreement with research and environmental specialist BRE and construction contract organisation NEC to develop a new contractual framework. With a target publication date of 2024, NEC4u – u for underground – will be designed specifically to recognise and optimise the contribution of underground infrastructure to sustainable development by using relationship contracting, set up to avoid disputes.
“The reason that this is so important is that the sustainability agenda is evolving all the time and if you are locked into a conventional tunnelling contract, the only way to incorporate any environmental innovation is via claims mechanisms, because it would be a variation,” explains Professor Arnold Dix, the ITA’s new president and legal expert. “If you establish a framework that’s relationship-based, linked to a sustainability measurement index, you overcome that problem.”
This world-first approach to contracting has already attracted the attention of mainstream media, with newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post seeking interviews with Dix when Tunnelling Journal spoke to him for this article.
BRE, which developed and administers sustainability certification schemes BREEAM and CEEQUAL will create a certification scheme tailored specifically to underground infrastructure projects. This is vital, says Dix:
“Traditional sustainability indexing tools are geared to above-ground developments and infrastructure. The underground has peculiarities and nuances which are really important for valuing it from a social, economic and environmental perspectives,” he says. “For example, we need credit for being underground, liberating that surface area which brings huge benefits.”
The agreement with BRE and NEC follows on from ITA’s work with FIDIC to produce the ITA-FIDIC Emerald Book for underground works. The ITA’s Working Group 3 – Contractual Practices – is currently creating a compendium for the FIDIC Emerald Book on sustainability issues. “We recognise that the NEC contract won’t work for everyone, some countries will want to use FIDIC,” says Dix. “We want to lift the game all over the world.”
With the first meetings about the new contractual framework scheduled just 14 days from the signing of the agreement and face-to-face meetings planned a month after that, Dix will be pushing hard to make sure that the new contract is delivered on time. Nominees from ITA working groups and committees were elected during the ITA General Assembly and World Tunnelling Congress in Copenhagen earlier this month and will report directly to the Executive Council of the ITA.
“The urgency of the climate emergency and achieving sustainability development goals is universally felt,” says Dix. “At the individual level, there is energy and commitment I have not seen before.”