The DG One report, which runs to more than 350 pages, has now been published by Dumfries & Galloway Council. The number one lesson is the importance of clients not handing total control to their contractors with no third-party checking.
The council commissioned the inquiry after the discovery of significant building safety concerns and construction failures following a protracted dispute with Kier, the building contractor.
Kier refused to co-operate with the inquiry. Council leader Elaine Murray has handed the report to the police.
The report author, Professor John Cole, finds that the root causes are all the same issues that he pinpointed in his seminal report into Edinburgh schools building work last year – namely, the lack of independent professional scrutiny of on-site construction on behalf of the client.
The result at DG One was, in Prof Cole’s words: “Defects seemed to permeate virtually all elements of the building from the underground drainage through all aspects of the structure and fabric up to the construction of the roof.”
He writes: “The presence of so many diverse defects is evidence of fundamental failures in the implementation of quality control processes used by the main contractor and the design and build supply chain responsible for delivering the design, construction, supervision and inspection of the building.”
Defects included the fire-proofing of the building, the masonry walls (significantly the inadequate installation of wall ties) and the pool waterproofing.
The DG One building was constructed under a design and build contract by Kier Northern between 2006 and 2008. Quality concerns were first raised during construction. Shortly after the much-delayed opening of the facility in 2008, the most significant problems that emerged were associated with the quality of construction of the swimming pool enclosures and the internal tiling to them.
Over the next few months and years of operation of the facility, despite regular attempts by Kier Northern to remedy them, there were repeated failures of the tile linings to the pools and leaking from the pools into adjacent areas of the building.
As Prof Cole writes in his report: “A wide range of other defects were also becoming apparent in relation to the build quality of the external and internal fabric, the specification and detailing of installed elements and the environmental performance of the building. Major problems associated with the construction of the training pool would lead to its enforced closure for a period of several months.
“The recurrence and identification of more defects and the council’s dissatisfaction with the responsiveness and effectiveness of Kier Northern in addressing them, eventually led in 2011 to the appointment of legal and technical advisers to prepare a case for compensation against Kier Northern. The extent of the defects resulted in the subsequent enforced closure of the building in 2014 to allow the necessary major remedial works to be undertaken.
“In November 2011, a series of investigations by the council’s in-house professional staff had identified widespread defects and omissions throughout the building, including major omissions in fire-stopping throughout the building. The council had no option but to order the immediate undertaking of emergency remedial work or face having to close the building on safety grounds.”
It is taking McLaughlin & Harvey 82 weeks and £10m to put right all Kier's defects, replacing all roof areas and much of the external cladding and brickwork, installing damp-proof course, re-tanking pools, replacing poolside screeds and tiling, replacing ceiling grids in changing areas, and repairing eaves structure and internal cladding.
While there are lessons that are specific to the DG One project, Prof Cole also specifically highlights the wider lessons that the UK construction industry – or more particularly its clients – really need to start learning.
“Following the inquiry’s investigations, it is difficult to avoid considerable read-across between this Report on the Construction of the DG One Complex in Dumfries and the Report of the Inquiry into the Construction of Edinburgh Schools, published in February 2017. Both inquiries were provided with evidence of widespread failures of quality control by major contractors in relation to two major elements of safety related construction, i.e. major inadequacies in the construction of structurally sound masonry walls and in the installation of essential fire-proofing.
“However, the existence of so many further defects in the DG One building across the work of a much wider range of specialist subcontractors, raises even deeper concerns and emphasises the importance of the continued pursuit of current initiatives by the Scottish government in seeking to improve the quality of construction across all aspects of the industry.
“It is clear that in so doing, the role that current approaches to the planning, procurement, design and management of construction projects may have played in contributing to these problems must be examined.
“In particular, over recent years, as a result of changes in procurement the involvement of the professional members of the design team, i.e. architects and engineers, in the inspection of the works has become increasingly limited on many public-sector projects. There is often no adequate independent professional scrutiny of on-site construction on behalf of the client. Contractors are in many cases effectively only subject to their own inspection of their own work and this inevitably can lead to conflicts of interest as a result of commercial pressures.”
Dumfries & Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray, said “We fully acknowledge all the inquiry’s findings and thank Professor Cole and his inquiry team. The findings of his inquiry give a damning verdict in the quality of construction of DG One at the hands of Keir Northern.
"Professor Cole’s inquiry contains a number of lessons and issues for the council to reflect upon. There are also matters for the attention of Scottish and UK governments. Dumfries & Galloway Council will be acting upon these immediately but legislative changes must also come in response to this inquiry. We will now focus on moving forward with the recommendations."
Depute leader Rob Davidson also laid into Kier, but did not consider the council's procurement strategy to be at fault. He said: "The report highlights the fundamental failings in the construction of the DG One building were failings on the part of the design and build contractor. The council had not unreasonably placed significant reliance on the size and experience of a major national contractor to deliver a building to the required standard.
"The subsequent issues would not have arisen had the contractor properly fulfilled the requirements of the contract in the first place. The number of basic faults and the extent of the sub-standard work identified is staggering. We expected the contractor to deliver a product that was fit for purpose – this did not happen. Their refusal to take part in the inquiry further underlines their lack of accountability with this project.”