Invesis’ contract with Rijswaterstaat to Design, Build, Finance and Maintain (DBFM) the N31 Highway in the Netherlands is nearing completion and will expire after nineteen years. On the 13th December 2022, the Invesis consortium Wâldwei.com, will transfer the maintenance of the road back to their client.
This is a special moment for Invesis Project Director Philip Kröner and his team, as the project will be officially handed back on the 13th December 2022. After fifteen years of being responsible for maintenance of the road, he will transfer the 22 kilometers of N31 between Hemriksein and Drachten to his counterpart of client Rijkswaterstaat, Michiel de Beer. This is a momentous milestone not only for the team at Invesis but also in the world of DBFM contracts in the Netherlands, as the N31 is only the second PPP project to reach the end of its contract and be returned to Rijkswaterstaat.
In 2003 Rijkswaterstaat (RWS) tendered the contract for the N31 which would consist of doubling a section of the N31 motorway to a four-lane road, the construction of an aqueduct, new connections and a bridge. It also included a fifteen-year maintenance contract, which started after the end of construction in 2007. By tendering the contract as a PPP project, Rijkswaterstaat ensured the best price-quality ratio at the time. It also promoted efficiency, new innovations and expanded the cooperation between government and market.
Invesis’ Wâldwei consortium – which took its name from this part of the motorway – won the tender, and on 10 December 2003 consortium partners Invesis (formerly BAM PPP), Ballast Nedam and Dura Vermeer signed the DBFM contract with Rijkswaterstaat, with Invesis shareholder BAM participating as a construction company. The N31 is now reaching the end of the contract, and is one of few PPP contracts to be in this final phase of a PPP contract working towards handback. Not only in the Netherlands, but also worldwide. This is a unique and important moment, from which lessons can also be learned.
Project Director Philip Kröner is happy to share lessons learned: ‘For fifteen years, Invesis has been responsible for the maintenance of the N31 for Rijkswaterstaat, and now that the road is being returned, RWS will take over the maintenance themselves. Therefore, it is important that the road meets the requirements that were drawn up at the start of the project, in 2003. However, at that time, due to the novelty of a DBFM contract, it turned out that there were no clear requirements in place for the handback stage’.
Philip Kroner says, ‘When we noticed this four years ago, we started specifying the requirements together with RWS, reaching a number of agreements. At that moment, we also aligned mutual expectations: what exactly are we going to deliver, what does that look like and which documents do we transfer? It is crucial to prepare the different phases very carefully, so that there are no surprises at the time of the actual transfer.’
Effective communication, collaboration and early preparation are key to success.
Philip Kröner explains ‘it is good to start the transfer process in a timely manner together with the client and all those involved. Six months ago we carried out an inspection. Then followed a lot of consultations with RWS and at each stage we provided an update on our progress and demonstrated that requirements have been met on the basis of inspection reports of independent experts. We made it clear to them exactly what we were intending to submit and on 8 November, we submitted all reports and supporting information. Thanks to our thorough preliminary work, we are on time and well prepared for the transfer next month.
The cooperation between the consortiums construction partners and Rijkswaterstaat has always been good, says Philip. ‘It is important for those involved in a PPP project to maintain continuous communication with all parties; in order for such a transfer to go well, clear agreements are needed. By constantly consulting with one another and communicating effectively, you will always succeed together. This way you can be sure that everyone’s interests are met.
Michiel de Beer, the project manager for the N31 at Rijkswaterstaat, agrees that collaboration between all parties is key to a successful project. ‘Work has been carried out according to the DBFM contract and a characteristic of this way of working and the relationship between us as a client and, among others, Invesis as a contractor, is that everyone always tried to look for a solution if a problem arose, both during construction and in the maintenance phase. There were technical challenges but we all tackled them pragmatically and with a view to the solution. Despite the fact it was the first project of its kind, all stakeholders agree the project has been a success because everyone involved did everything they could to make it a success and the collaboration was simply good.’
Entire life cycle
Invesis were in it for the long-haul, which is part of the reason the project ran flawlessly from concept right through to handback. The promises they made were kept. With Philip Kröner and his team having gone through earlier project handbacks they were confident that their knowledge and experience of the process would result in success. And that is special, even on a global level. ‘There are a lot of PPP contracts but few at that have reached this stage, even in the global PPP market.’
Invesis has invested in fifty ongoing PPP contracts in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, including Australia. The transfer of the N31 to Rijkswaterstaat is therefore not a one-off, it is already Invesis’ third successful return. Philip: ‘If you have the project under control for the entire period, you naturally grow towards this moment with the various parties. The strength of Invesis is that we oversee the entire life cycle and pay long-term attention to the process.’
Another big advantage is that Invesis never sells projects after they have been awarded to them, as many developers do. ‘The PPP project remains our asset for the entire contract period. And thanks to our good maintenance during that period, we can now deliver a road that is in a good condition, that the client is happy with. Twenty years ago, this form of contract was still new in the Netherlands and this project showcases the success of PPP projects. It’s the final piece.’
In short, Invesis has delivered high-quality infrastructure that meets all requirements. Because it has been maintained to the highest standards for fifteen years, it is ready to go, so that RWS can continue to use it in the future. Philip concludes: ‘It’s a really good stretch of road.’ And that is in line with Invesis’ key messaging: that they are there for their clients at every step of the project – from start to finish.
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