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Make sure you choose the right building contract

How to find your way through the many UK contracts available

25 July 2019

Architects and contract administrators now have a huge number of standard contracts to choose from when setting up a project. The amount of choice on offer might be a little bewildering. The latest edition of Which Contract? Choosing the Appropriate Building Contract provides a thorough assessment of what is on offer, and helps pick the best contract for the project.

When the book was first published 30 years ago, there were only 19 standard building contracts available in the UK. The latest edition is almost encyclopedic, with detailed coverage of over 40 contracts currently in use. The Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) alone now publishes 17 forms of main contract.

One of the book’s authors, Sarah Lupton, is qualified in both architecture and law; her co-author, Manos Stellakis, is a fellow partner in the practice Lupton Stellakis

To deal with the plethora of contracts out there, they have introduced user-friendly comparative tables to the new edition to make it easier to filter out less appropriate options. It is now easy to match specific project demands of workflow and phasing to an appropriate contract.

Differing aspects of contracts suitable for smaller projects are compared in detail within the tables: these are a good starting point for projects with domestic clients. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are tables comparing contracts for framework arrangements, alliancing and integrated teams.

The book offers a comprehensive guide to procurement options (‘Thinking about procurement’), before taking the reader through ‘Selecting a contract’ - discussing the relative priorities of time, cost, and quality in a project.

Tables cover factors such as cost monitoring, drawing approval procedures and client selected sub-contractors. The main part of the book then consists of a description of all the contracts available from the nine active UK contract publishers.

Notable new contract additions include international contracts (FIDIC), framework contracts, and collaborative contracts. The latter can formalise approaches to reducing disagreements, creating the right culture and behaviour, and facilitating project integration. They include variations of alliancing, partnering and incentive based supply team agreements - in which parties agree to share the pain and gain of a projects.

Perhaps surprisingly, the increasing use of BIM has not made its way into standard contracts. Lupton explains that those aimed at larger projects will accommodate an information management system by simply allowing the parties to name a BIM Protocol, or similar document.

Identifying the most appropriate contract for a project is an essential task, but it can be an intimidating one, given the number of contracts on offer.

The two authors single out a few relatively recent arrivals for special mention. The JCT Constructing Excellence Contract (CE16) is a response to government and industry calls for more collaborative contracts and can be used by all parties in the supply chain, including consultants. It is flexible and can accommodate incentives such as a bonus for early completion, target cost options, and project team agreements.

"It is compact and clear, but it assumes that the people who use it know what they are doing," adds Lupton.

She also welcomes two updated RIBA contracts: the Concise Building Contract, and the Domestic Building Contract. These answered calls from architects for shorter but flexible forms that were easy to use and allowed for the appointment of a contract administrator.

Lupton points out several of their strengths. They define the architect or contract administrator’s duty to provide information and their responsibility for inspection and tests, they set out protocols for when the contractor is designing part of the project, and they make clear what constitutes practical completion. While concise, they are suitable for a wide range of projects.

Sarah Lupton will be giving a presentation on contracts at this year's Guerrilla Tactics conference on Wednesday 6 November at the RIBA; 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD. Tickets are now on sale, with discounted early bird rates available until 1 September.

Thanks to Professor Sarah Lupton and Manos Stellakis, partners, Lupton Stellakis.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Procurement and contracts.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 25 July 2019.

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