Engine boom

The North East’s engineering heritage is standing it in good stead for the current rush of construction work.

The North East is full of iconic images, from the uplifting Angel of the North to the bleakly depressing car park in Get Carter, which is happily soon to make way for a major town-centre redevelopment in Gateshead.

That the North East region has been at the cutting edge of specialist engineering development for more than 150 years can be traced through the incredible history of the bridges that link Newcastle to Gateshead.

There include:
– The High Level Bridge, the first dual-decked rail and road bridge in the world when completed in 1849;
– The Swing Bridge, which was opened in 1876 and remains the largest swing bridge in the world;
– The Tyne Bridge, the largest single span bridge in the world when opened in 1928; and,
– The blinking eye Millennium Bridge, the world’s first rotating bridge and one so energy efficient it uses about £3 of electricity to move its 850 tonnes to open.

While the views of the Tyne are no longer full of shipbuilding, the specialist engineering sector remains vibrant in the North East.

A new era

It is the region’s heritage and the current vibrancy of the construction sector that makes some of the country’s best construction and engineering lawyers want to work in the region.

By working on some of the key multimillion pound construction projects in the region, including the new air traffic control tower at Newcastle International Airport, as well as advising on local and national construction disputes and increasingly on environmental issues, firms have been able to develop some innovative legal practices. A case in point is UK Land Estates.

UK Land Estates, a leading commercial developer in the region, often views things differently to other developers – take, for example, its 13-storey Tyne Bridge Tower, a 1970s building currently awaiting refurbishment.

The company invited Andrew Gifford, a world class artist raised in Middlesbrough, to paint the spectacular views from the tower as a way of demonstrating what the development would have to offer potential tenants.

UK Land Estates is committed to changing the often outdated and outmoded perception that many people hold of the typical industrial shed – it is no longer enough just to build tin sheds that barely keep out the elements, industry now expects more innovative structures.

High quality units are now required to house sophisticated engineering operations such as the extrusion of aluminium wing sections which are exported from the region for use worldwide in the latest super-liner aircraft.

An unusual relationship

This outward looking view is applied to UK Land Estates’ entire portfolio of commercial properties, which are in demand by the specialist engineers that thrive in the region. With this in mind, UK Land Estates has developed an innovative way of using its law firms in order to develop the best tools for its portfolio.

The contractual arrangements for the construction of high quality units have to be just as sophisticated as the buildings themselves, and lawyers have had to create innovative ways to produce legal products to meet clients’ commercial construction needs.

UK Land Estates has developed a sophisticated approach to this by dovetailing the construction contracts together with other commercial agreements, resulting in a set of documents that satisfies UK Land Estates’ corporate policy on risk management, and which can be accessed through a secure extranet website to enable effective document management.

UK Land Estates works with a close-knit supply chain and those relationships are controlled by contracts that regulate them with the minimum of fuss while at all times remaining institutionally acceptable to the end users.

The legal input is prioritised so that it becomes more about the project management of the contractual documents needed to deliver the development and less about endless rounds of negotiation on arcane points of law.

Following the theme of pioneering development, the contractual arrangements are kept under constant review to mirror the changing needs of UK Land Estates and by adopting cutting edge market practices such as the use of third-party rights on suitable developments rather than labour under the administrative burden of collateral warranties.

The future

So what is the future for the construction and engineering sector in the North East?

There is no doubt it is extremely promising and the demand for specialist engineering skills is being met by the development of a number of specialist colleges to continue the proud heritage of specialist engineering in the North East.

A leading example of this is the £5m Automotive Centre for Excellence, which is home to Gateshead College’s automotive, manufacturing and logistics training.

This is the most up-to-date facility in the region, which Gateshead College uses to serve the training needs of both students and businesses alike. The automotive theme continues with the former Rolls-Royce premises being converted by UK Land Estates from an existing office and warehouse to a training facility for Gateshead College.

Many such colleges and academies are in the course of development, often being developed through public/private schemes, which is again great news for the region.

The development of top educational establishments such as these show that the future of construction and engineering in the North East is in safe hands, and it is the reason why construction lawyers want to work there.

The region will continue to innovate and inspire other major construction icons across the world – in fact, the same Middlesbrough company, Dorman Long, built the Tyne Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (completing the Tyne Bridge first).

Michael Conroy Harris, Eversheds