Mark Richardson: Putting the spirit of partnership into construction


It’s not easy to pin it on just one thing, but there is a danger that the concept of working in partnership – particularly between the public and private sectors – is getting a bad name.

The political warfare over the Haringey Development Vehicle, the collapse of Carillion, the turmoil on the East Coast mainline. The idea of different sectors working together could become toxic.

And yet it is crucial that trust in the concept of partnership is restored, for the benefit of the UK and its economy.

At U+I, we’re committed to working in partnership and to restoring trust in the private sector’s ability to do so.

If we’re to achieve our mission to deliver long-term value through regeneration for local communities, we need the right partners to join us on that journey. Partners who share our values and ambitions, and in whom we can trust.

This commitment to fostering strong partnerships extends all the way to our approach to construction.

It is about approaching every site differently. We don’t take a cookie-cutter approach to our developments – and the same applies to our partners. When choosing contractors, we match them to the size, the location and the complexity of the project at hand.

Of course, there’s a place for Tier Ones for some of our larger projects in London. But working with internationally owned giants whose authorisation comes from distant shores isn’t always in the best interests of the projects we work on in smaller cities in the UK.

That’s why we recently appointed Graham Construction as the first contractor on our £200m Preston Barracks development in Brighton. This is Graham’s biggest contract to date by some considerable margin, but it has huge advantages for us too. These SMEs have an attention to detail and propensity for innovation and fresh thinking that’s often unmatched by Tier Ones. Crucially, they also know the lay of the local land. That knowledge can be invaluable. For example, it allows us to reduce our carbon footprint through more efficient waste removal.


Working with local contractors also gives us a direct line into the local community and workforce. At our Circus Street project in Brighton, for example, 20 per cent of the workmen are local and the contractor there, Henry, is committed to investing in upskilling that workforce. This is crucial at a time where the skills gap in the construction industry looms ominously.

Of course, there are risks to working with smaller contractors. But foster a relationship of trust, and that risk diminishes. It starts with us taking a leap of faith to de-risk the project on behalf of our partners. We often place the contract for the entire works with a Tier 2 main contractor who has a single point of responsibility for the design coordination and delivery. To ensure we have best in class trade contractors working for that main contractor we then open a project bank account therefore guaranteeing funding to those businesses.

In turn, we build trust and cultivate an atmosphere of partnership and collaboration from the outset. That allows us to work to a shared goal, to be solutions-focused and to be creative and innovative in the way we approach the site.

That’s what good partnership is all about for us at U+I – removing the barriers to delivery so we can work with our partners to create the best possible places for the communities around us. If we do it well, we’ll not just challenge current perceptions of partnerships, we’ll deliver socio-economic change for the long-term.

Mark Richardson, Director of Delivery, U+I