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As Lawyer 2B went to press, a fifth consortium headed by Australia's Macquarie Bank had yet to appoint advisers and was handling the early stages of the tender process in-house.
The scale of the project has left those practices so far without instructions scrambling to secure any role they can, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and Lovells all desperate to be involved.
Denton Wilde Sapte has continued its 11-year relationship with the Highways Agency (HA), and will advise on the contract, known as a 'design build finance operate' (DBFO) contract.
DBFOs are the HA's preferred method for PPP contracts.
A&O, led by projects partner David Lee, is advising a consortium of Amey and Laing O'Rourke, while Camerons partner Trevor Butcher is leading the team acting for a consortium made up of Vinci, Carillion and Costain.
Linklaters has secured instructions from a consortium of US project management company Fluor and Australia's Transurban, with Stuart Rowson leading the team. Ashurst is understood to be advising the Skanska and Balfour Beatty consortium.
The tender process used by the HA has seen the consortia complete a pre-qualifying stage, described by a HA official as "an essay writing competition". While lengthening the tender process, it is designed to keep costs down in the early stages for the consortia. The HA will run an 'invitation to submit outline proposal' (ISOP) process from March until September.
The HA will whittle the consortia down to three after the ISOP stage, and those remaining three will submit full tenders in a process not expected to be finalised until the end of 2007.
The successful bidder will also be responsible for the future operation and maintenance of the M25, intersecting roads and the Dartford River Crossing for 30 years, valued at around £100m per year.