A Year of Developments in Construction, and What 2019 May Hold

THINGS never stand still in the construction industry and so, as expected, there was a lot of change in 2018, including legal and industry changes and other developments.

Simon Lewis

In this article, Simon Lewis, Partner, and Hannah GardinerSolicitor, at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson take a look at some of those changes and also highlight a few things to expect in 2019.

Legal changes 


Hannah Gardiner

The major legislative changes arising from GDPR, which came into force on 25 May, saw businesses reviewing and changing the way they approach communications and data protection. The maximum financial penalty for non-compliance with GDPR is up to €20 million or 4% of global turnover (whichever is higher), and so GDPR became increasingly high profile in the run up to May 2018. Businesses should continue to regularly review whether they are still in compliance, particularly with information and guidance on GDPR still emerging. For more, see here.

One case has changed the face of adjudication, following which we expect to see fewer “smash and grab” adjudications. These kinds of adjudications begin when one party claims against another for payment of the full amount it says is owed (even though the true value of the amount payable may be lower) on the basis that the other party has failed to give a valid payment or pay less notice on time or correctly (ie in accordance with the contract between the parties).

In that case, of S&T (UK) Limited v Grove Developments Limited [2018] EWCA Civ 2448, the Court of Appeal concluded that that an employer who has failed to serve both a payment notice and a pay less notice can nevertheless commence an adjudication to have the true value of an application assessed and to reclaim any sum which has been overpaid – a significant departure from previous cases. Essentially, this has confirmed the availability to employers of true value adjudications even if they have failed to issue a timely payment or a valid pay less notice. For more, see here.

Concurrent delay
Another case, North Midland Building Ltd v Cyden Homes Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 1744, provoked much discussion as to whether the prevention principle (the principle that a party cannot enforce a contractual obligation on another party, where the party enforcing that obligation has itself prevented the other party from performing) should take precedence over freedom to agree contract terms, in circumstances where parties had agreed on the allocation of the risk of concurrent delay.

In this case, the Court of Appeal made it clear that parties are free to allocate concurrent delay risk in their contracts, regardless of the prevention principle, and it may be that we see more discussion around this in contract negotiations in the future. For more, see here.

Industry-driven changes 

Carillion’s insolvency and its after effects
Shortly into 2018, the Official Receiver was appointed liquidator of a number of Carillion Group companies. The knock-on effects saw several construction companies either struggling or following Carillion’s example, due to non-payment by Carillion or loss of Carillion projects. There was also significant cost to the taxpayer as the government had to cover redundancy payments through the Redundancy Payments Office. The failure of Carillion to pay its sub-contractors has added fuel to discussions on whether payment is being passed down the construction chain properly and promptly and whether the practice of withholding retentions (ie keeping money back under the terms of a construction contract), although industry standard, should be reviewed and reformed. The Government has also announced proposals to require its outsourcers to provide living wills in the future. For more, see here.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy of 14 June 2017, resulting in 72 deaths, continues to be investigated at a Public Inquiry which has released 18,000 pages of material and numerous expert reports.

Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report of 17 May 2018 concluded that the current building safety regulatory framework, including the regulations which apply to the specification and testing of construction products, is “not fit for purpose”.

A “ban on the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings” came into effect on 21 December 2018. The construction industry will now have to change how it uses cladding (and other combustible materials) and how products are tested for use.

During his Budget speech in October 2018 the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said: “I have never signed off a PFI contract as Chancellor and I can confirm today that I never will”. He went on to say that the Government has now abolished the use of PFI and PF2 for future projects. The Government will not however take back control of existing PFI contracts but will instead allow these to run their course and establish a centre of excellence “to actively manage these contracts in taxpayers’ interests starting in the health sector”.

However, while no new PFI contracts will be signed, the lifespan of existing PFI contracts is long and we expect we will hear more about these. And, what will replace PFI? For more, see here.

Other noteworthy developments 

Extraordinary weather
2018 was a year of weather extremes. Early in the year, the country was covered in hail, snow and ice due to the Beast from The East in March, affecting UK projects. Then temperatures reached near record highs of 33.3C in summer, posing a significant risk to the health of construction workers.

To assist, we looked at what adverse climatic condition clauses said in various construction contracts and what the law says about employers’ obligations to take care of their workers in soaring temperatures.

In the world of BIM, 2018 saw the Winfield Rock Report prepared by May Winfield and Sarah Rock for the UK BIM Alliance, subtitled “Overcoming the Legal and Contractual Barriers of BIM”. The Report was based upon an online survey together with a number of interviews with BIM experts, lawyers and clients; one of its most striking findings was that every interviewee provided a different definition of BIM Level 2. For more, see here.

In another development, the second edition of the CIC BIM protocol was published in April 2018. It is intended to reflect current practices and standards and to be a more flexible document to use alongside different contractual arrangements. We anticipate that it will contribute towards the growing standardisation of BIM legal and contractual documentation. For more, see here.

Mental health
Mental health is still a major concern for the construction industry, as male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK man. On a more positive note, we are seeing more and more industry discussion about mental health and we expect that momentum to continue. For more, see here.

Modern slavery
In July 2018, the Government announced that it planned to launch an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This is particularly relevant to the construction industry as the CIOB’s May 2018 report “Construction and the Modern Slavery Act: Tackling Exploitation in the UK” found that that “globally, an estimated 16 million people were in forced labour within the private sector in 2016. Construction ranks second only to domestic work for prevalence of this abuse, at 18% and 24% respectively”. So, with the Government’s independent review underway and with construction known to be an industry in which modern slavery is a particular issue, we may well see more developments in the year ahead. For more, see here.

What to look out for in 2019

For those in the construction industry who tender for work and services based in EU countries or who advertise work to and request services from businesses in EU countries, this is a particular concern – and we looked at the Government’s guidance note entitled “Accessing public sector contracts if there’s no Brexit deal” here.

The Government followed up on this by laying before Parliament on 13 December 2018 a draft set of Regulations to cover changes which will need to be made to the existing procurement Regulations (Public Contracts Regulations 2015, as well as those on utilities and concession contracts) on exit day in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The effect of the draft Regulations would be in essence to maintain the status quo in terms in the UK procurement regime, with some ‘tidying-up’ to reflect the exit from the EU. However, there is no certainty as to whether the draft Regulations will ever come into force, if the UK leaves with a deal, or what further changes may be made to the final version.

See the Brexit hub.

Disclosure Pilot Scheme
As of 1 January 2019, a new mandatory Disclosure Pilot Scheme (DPS) is in operation, for a period of two years, in the Business and Property Courts, which includes the Technology and Construction Court, subject to limited exceptions. The purpose of the DPS is bring about wholesale change to disclosure of documents by parties and courts and the litigation culture generally. The DPS requires a greater focus on the key ‘Issues for Disclosure’ rather than every issue pleaded and on the cooperation and engagement of the parties. It is also intended to encourage greater use of technology and greater oversight and case management by the judiciary. The DPS introduces five new ‘Disclosure Models’ to encourage a move away from standard disclosure as the default, as well as a new concept of ‘Initial Disclosure’. For more, see the new Practice Direction to the Civil Procedure Rules, PD51U. 

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
In December 2018, a working group of the Civil Justice Council published its ADR and Civil Justice Final Report, which makes recommendations about ADR following the working group’s review of the ways in which ADR is currently positioned within the civil justice system in England and Wales. Whilst it will take time for the report to be reviewed, discussed and actioned, the suggested move towards a “presumption” that ADR should be attempted together with the costs consequences for failure to mediate could mean that more claims will be diverted away from judicial determination, and that we shall see more emphasis on other forms of alternative dispute resolution (not just mediation) in 2019. For more, see here.

The ongoing development of the international BIM standard ISO 19650 will help to drive BIM more securely into the construction process. We will be tracking the ISO as it progresses and also keeping an eye on developments in the Digital Built Britain project, of which BIM forms a significant part.

New contracts
2018 saw a number of standard form construction contracts being published by industry bodies, like RIBA’s professional services contracts and building contracts, NEC4’s alliance contract, and ICC’s design and construct contract and target cost contracts.

In 2019, keep an eye out for FIDIC’s Emerald Book, RIC’s new consultant appointment forms (which they ran a consultation on in 2018), and the NEC’s new public sector Z clauses to complement their NEC4 suite.



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