Interview with Chief Executive, Aneurin Phillips, on the sourcing of materials for the new Summit Building
1. Why is there a need for a new building on the summit of Snowdon?
A building has traditionally provided shelter and services to visitors to the summit of Snowdon for more than 150 years and today it provides shelter, refreshments and toilet facilities for the 350,000 visitors who reach the summit every year, on train or on foot. The current building was built over 70 years ago and is in extremely poor condition. Not only is it an eyesore, but it also detracts from the enjoyment of this magnificent setting.
Tourism is important to the local economy in Gwynedd. The Snowdon Summit is one of the top ten attractions in North Wales and a new building will improve the visitor experience and hopefully attract visitors to return to the area.
Snowdon Summit is also an icon for Wales and the existing building does nothing to improve our image as a nation.
In June 2002, Snowdonia National Park Authority approved of Furneaux Stewarts’ proposals to refurbish the summit building and based on their ideas, planning approval for a total refurbishment of the building was given in January 2004.
2. How did the Authority choose the architects for the project?
The architects were selected by rigorous competition. More than 40 applied for the contract and the successful company, Furneaux Stewart, was selected in 2002 by the Authority on the basis of past work, experience and approach.
3. What sort of materials will be used in the new building?
Due to the extreme weather conditions on the summit and the need to blend the new building into its surroundings as much as possible, the Architect specified that the building should be built of granite.
All in all, I understand that it is estimated that over two thirds of the value of the contract in terms of labour, transport and material costs will be sourced from Wales, which is very high.
4. The use of granite for the building has caused some concern, particularly as the impression is that the National Park Authority insists that local people use local materials. Isn’t this double standards by the Authority?
Under European law the Authority cannot insist that local people use local materials only. The Authority encourages people to use natural materials wherever possible and preferably from local sources. In the case of roofing slate, the Authority places a condition stipulating local slate or an equivalent in terms of colour, texture and weathering characteristics. Up to the 1980s it is true that the Authority required only Welsh slate but it lost a legal case and the advice that we received from solicitors in this case is that we would be in breach of European treaty principles if we stipulated in the contract that the contractor must use local materials only.
So in this case our contract documents said that the contractor had to use granite from Trevor or an equivalent.
5. Why isn’t the roof of the new building built of slate?
The architect specified granite as the most durable and appropriate building material. A traditional slate roof would not last in the extreme weather conditions experienced on the summit of Snowdon. Each year the Authority has to repair storm damage to the existing building e.g. missing tiles etc.
6. The words European Law have been mentioned. Why didn’t the Authority insist that the contractor uses local stone?
This is a complex area but I will try to explain it. The Authority obtained independent expert legal advice. They advised the Authority that it could not under European Treaty principles specify to the contractor where he sources the building materials. We went as far as we could in the tender process in stating that the granite for the roof, for example, must be Trefor Stone or equivalent in appearance and quality. Naturally the contractor who has won the contract to supply stone for the roof has priced the stone as cheaply as he can from his knowledge of world prices.
7. So the contractor did not submit a price for local granite?
It is my understanding that a local quarry was given an opportunity to supply the granite stone on the same conditions as other suppliers, but could not meet the price or necessary indemnities that the contractor needed. It needs to be understood that the timetable for constructing the new building is very constrained by the need to claim the grants. I understand that the contractor is asking suppliers to guarantee supply on time and is seeking indemnities should this not occur. The price quoted by the local quarry was substantially higher than competitors and crucially for the contractor; the local quarry was not prepared to offer the necessary indemnities.
8. But if the Authority cannot specify where stone comes from, it could come from anywhere.
True. The contractor has a budget for stone within his tender price and he can source from anywhere in the world. The stone for the roof, for example, is coming from Portugal but the stone for the walls and platform paving will be coming from Cwt y Bugail quarry near Blaenau Ffestiniog. Any stone used however has to be
9. The Authority has agreed to pay more money than was originally budgeted for the Welsh and Portuguese granite. How could it do that?
This is also true. The Blaenau Ffestiniog granite for the walls and platform paving cost £56,000 more than the original budget and the Portuguese granite for the roof cost £28,000 more than the original budget. This is a relatively small increase in the overall cost of the construction contract of just over £7 million.
The contractor is free to approach the Authority with stone which costs more than the budget if he sees fit, particularly if he feels it is more suitable (e.g. colour or appearance and/or sustainability) than other stone originally budgeted. The Authority, outside the planning process, can then assess if it agrees and whether, on a cost benefit basis, it is worth proceeding and allocating an extra sum of money to the budget to enable the stone to be used. In this case, the contractor approached the Authority and the Authority considered that the increase in the budget was justified due to the suitability of the granite and to ensure that the stone came form a more sustainable source.
10. So the contractor did put forward a local supplier at extra cost for the Authority to consider outside the planning process?
Yes. The contractor knows that the Authority very much wants as much locally supplied material in the building as possible. I must emphasise, however, that we cannot instruct the contractor to utilise local suppliers in general or one supplier in particular.
If the contractor can find a suitable stone, in sufficient quantities, from a supplier who can guarantee to meet the delivery deadlines and indemnify the contractor against delays, then he can put that stone and any anticipated extra cost to the Authority for consideration. The Authority would undertake a careful cost benefit analysis mindful of the need to spend public money wisely and could come to the conclusion that it was worth allocating extra money from outside the project budget. I must emphasise though that this would depend on the extra costs involved and whether the Authority had that amount to reallocate.
11. So what happens when the contractor has found a stone he wants to use?
He puts in an application to the National Park Authority as the local planning authority. The Planning Committee decides whether the granite meets the conditions, it has no jurisdiction over sources, price or any other matter. In this case the Planning Committee concluded that the granite submitted from China, Portugal and Wales were acceptable on planning grounds. But for reasons I have covered above the Authority decided to go for granite from Portugal and Wales.
12. The National Park Authority can in effect give itself planning permission?
Yes. This is not unusual, however. All local planning authorities have planning committees which can give planning permission for the Authority’s own schemes. What is important is that the Planning Authority sits separately to the local authority and considers planning issues only.
13. This contract is a Guaranteed Maximum Price contract. What is that?
In order to reduce the financial risk to the Authority of such a major contract, the cost of which is almost equivalent to its annual budget, the Authority was advised to enter into a Guaranteed Maximum Price contract with the chosen contractor. This means that the price agreed is what will be paid, except for any agreed changes during the scheme.
14. When will the contractor demolish the existing building?
Work will start on the 12th September 2006 and the entire building should be demolished before winter.
15. When will the new building be opened?
We expect the new building to be completed and opened to the public by the summer of 2008.