Projects are about people

Stephen Ashton | 21 Sep 2015 | Comments

Looking back over the last seven plus years that I have lived and breathed the Birmingham New Street project I can say that it has been a roller coaster of a journey with some great highs and challenging lows! But now, as we reach closure of the project with the opening of the station and Grand Central shopping centre, not forgetting John Lewis as my friends and family keep reminding me, I can only view this as a fantastic experience and so I would like to share a key lesson I have learnt – projects are about people.

When I first met with the client’s team at the project mobilisation meeting it was apparent that they had a dream that they wanted us to deliver by working alongside them. It soon became clear that the change to Birmingham New Street station was to not only improve the station environment but to give the city of Birmingham a new gateway which would form part of the ongoing vision from Birmingham City Council to redevelop the city and reinforce its place as the UK’s second city. This project was to make a difference to the people of Birmingham.

This project is massive but I am not sure that the project team really got to grips with the enormity and reality of the challenge to transform the tired 1960s building to the iconic structure it has now become until we were all relocated into the project office and began our journey together. The shortage of good records of the existing structure and the constraint of access to undertake surveys meant we were discovering information throughout the construction stage. This discovery meant that the accepted design was no longer appropriate and so the team – Network Rail, Mace, Atkins – had to work closely together to refresh the design to reflect the new information while taking account of the ongoing construction programme and protecting the design concept. Investing time in developing trusting relationships that allowed open and honest conversations meant workshops held to resolve the challenges could be lively and productive. This mind-set of collaborative working and problem-solving whilst retaining technical solutions that protect the client’s dreams is essential as we move forward into future projects such as East-West Rail Phase 2 and HS2.

As the project progressed the input from the multiple stakeholders combined with the client’s passion to make sure their concept was protected by seeking opportunities to refine and adjust the design meant we were having to take on board major changes. This included the introduction of the John Lewis building and the redevelopment of the shopping centre. Atkins was able to respond to these challenges by supplementing the core team with various technical specialists and enhanced design teams based in our offices around the UK and India. Communication and visibility between the Atkins teams, project team and the client was the key, so all who worked on the project understood the concept, the project programme and complexities of the existing environment. The design had to be buildable whilst minimising the impact on the ongoing construction programme including the daily operation of the station and the lively shopping mall. It was good to talk and face-to-face whenever possible. Key members of the Atkins design teams often spent time in the project offices to enhance the communication process.

I believe we did brilliantly to deliver this project. David Balmforth, ICE President, commented at a recent ICE event where Network Rail and Atkins delivered a presentation on the Birmingham New Street project, “This project would have been fantastic as a new build on a green field site, it would have been stunning in that context. To do this on an existing station is absolutely amazing.”

It has been a fantastic journey with the whole project team to see the client’s dreams come true – come along and see for yourself.

Read more about Atkins’ work on Birmingham New Street station in our thought leadership feature, Station masterpiece.