“Tricky and difficult” Oxford Street refurb wins first-time project manager national award

Joseph McNeil MCIOB of UK contractor Sir Robert McAlpine has been awarded Construction Manager of the Year at the CIOB’s annual celebration of construction professionals for his leadership on the complex refurbishment of a flagship business premise at 120 Oxford Street, London.

Judges said McNeil’s achievement is notable given that it was his first project as lead, and that he showed "maturity of thought and decision making beyond his age or experience". He beat 79 other finalists to the trophy.

The job was made trickier by the fact that Sir Robert McAlpine got the contract after the failure, two weeks after site start, of the more competitively priced contractor that originally won the tender.

That meant McNeil took on his first role as project manager with no prior knowledge of the scheme and with the lower storeys of the building already vacated, the hoardings up and the client keen to restart works as quickly as possible. He quickly mobilised his team and got the early works packages moving.

An early decision was to challenge the demolition methodology in the building, which had sensitive neighbours and existing tenants. Where the plan had been to use diamond-saw cutting without percussive breaking, his successful proposal was to use hydraulic crunching instead. This achieved substantial programme and cost benefits. It kept disruption and noise to a minimum and allowed a contract agreement to be finalised.

In another instance of problem-solving, an incoming tenant’s requirements conflicted with the specification for the screeding. McNeil proposed a mix of repair works, levelling compounds and new screeds, which allowed a significant saving on the tenant’s original request to remove and replace all screeds. It also accelerated the programme, allowing for earlier tenant occupation.

By working with his supply chain, McNeil was also able to offer improvements on the design team’s proposals. The most significant was for the reconfiguration of the building’s main power supplies to feed the new retail units: by re-using some elements of the existing low-voltage infrastructure, he reduced the scope of the new works and saved costs.

This boosted trust between contractor and client and was one of the principal drivers for the extensive contract growth (over £3m in variations) on the project.

Combined with defect and snag-free delivery on time and on budget, it has also resulted in McNeil’s appointment as leader of a team doing more work for the client.

Stephen Bradbury MCIOB, one of the judges for the refurbishment category, said: "This was Joseph’s first project as the lead. He delivered with passion and took ownership from the start on a tricky scheme in a difficult location. Joseph demonstrated a maturity of thought and decision making beyond his age or experience. This project had many opportunities to go wrong, but the detailed and methodical approach taken by Joseph made sure this was a success – and he delivered to such a high standard that Joseph has subsequently negotiated another project with the same client."

When announced as category gold medallist for Refurbishment, Joseph McNeil was asked about he challenges on the project. He said: "the discoveries and unknowns are among the biggest challenges. Not the client, honestly!"

On it being announced that he had been named Construction Manager of the Year and was taking home the trophy, he said: "It’s amazing. Now I’m going to be on the Wall of Fame in the corridor next year! I want to thank my team and I want to add that the ladies on my table were instrumental in the success of my project; certainly, three of the most influential people on my work are present and I want to thank them."

CIOB Chief Executive Caroline Gumble said: "The Construction Manager of the Year competition has always been about highlighting the best of leadership and talent in our sector. All of the CMYA medallists this year have been incredibly impressive but many congratulations to Joseph McNeil as he really stood out for the judges with a combination of professionalism, brilliant communication skills and dedication. He’s a shining example of a construction manager making a difference not just to a client but also to the local community and, by demonstrating the best of what we as an industry can do, to the wider construction community."

  • More information about all the finalists can be found on the CMYA website. 

Image: Joseph McNeil just after being named Construction Manager of the Year by the CIOB (Saul Townsend)

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