The Lower Thames Crossing will connect Essex and Kent © National Highways
The Lower Thames Crossing will connect Essex and Kent © National Highways

What is procurement's role in building the UK's 'greenest ever road'?

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
30 September 2022

The procurement team on the UK Lower Thames Crossing project is breaking new ground with ways to cut carbon.

Katharina Ferguson, procurement programme director on the scheme, told Supply Management they had an ambition that “people will look back on at the programme and say, ‘Wow, they really did make a difference’”.

The project will see a new tunnel beneath the Thames and associated roads east of London to relieve pressure on the overloaded Dartford Crossing, a vital freight route between Essex and Kent, with a target completion date in 2029-30.

It is described as the most ambitious roads project since the M25 was completed 35 years ago and aims to be the “greenest road ever built in the UK”.

The 40-strong procurement team is currently in the process of evaluating bids for each of the three main contracts, ranging in value from £600m to £2.3bn, which cover Kent roads, tunnels, and roads north.

In a first for a major infrastructure project a carbon model has been developed that breaks down the design based on CO2 emissions, in a similar way to a bill of quantities. This was presented to potential bidders for review and feedback.

Alongside this a carbon baseline has been set which is 30% below normal emissions on a construction project, which bidders must meet and ideally better.

Ferguson said it was “all about the quality of their solution”.

“So, what are you going to do now but also what are you going to do in three or 10 years’ time in order to meet ongoing carbon reduction?” she said.

“What we want is the best team who are investing the most in innovation, research and science and getting the right people to make it their company’s business to worry about carbon, so that long term have a partner that can deliver the absolute lowest carbon possible in the programme.

“We have an incentivisation mechanism where we will provide additional funding for any carbon ideas that could further reduce emissions.”

She told SM the response from bidders had been “incredibly positive”.

“It’s really interesting to see how they’ve approached it and stepped up. It’s almost like they want to be part of the journey.

“We’ve got the willingness, we’ve got the contractual mechanism, we’re procuring it. And you know, we now just need to get the right delivery partners on board.”

Ferguson said steel, cement, asphalt and diesel accounted for around three-quarters of the project’s carbon emissions. She said they were looking towards hydrogen, low-carbon steel, and different cement mixes to reduce emissions, but getting the design right and cutting waste were critical areas.

Social value is central to the project, making up 26% of the total score in tender evaluations.

This includes environment and carbon, local supply chain and SMEs, skills, education, employment, and impact on local communities.

“What do you want to achieve and what legacy do you want to leave?” Ferguson said. “And particularly on these massive infrastructure programmes, that's just so essential because it’s public money, it impacts so many people. So if we can’t leave a good legacy at the end of it, we haven’t done our job properly.”

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