JCT Interviews… Ben Patton

In this series we shed some light on some of the key people who are involved with or give their time to support JCT, to ensure that all areas of the construction industry are represented and can contribute to the development of our contracts. We will look at how our interviewees contribute to JCT specifically, and gain their views on JCT’s wider role within the industry.

Member of the JCT Drafting Sub-Committee

Ben Patton is a Partner and co-practice head of Ashurst’s Real Estate Construction Team.

Ben specialises in non-contentious construction, acting for employers, developers, contractors and consultants in the drafting, negotiation and procurement arrangements of all forms of construction documentation, including building and engineering contracts, consultancy agreements, collateral warranties and forms of security for both public and private sector clients.

He advises across a full range of construction projects and has particular experience in complex, large-scale development projects in the real estate, energy, transport and infrastructure sectors.

JCT: Ben, how did you first come to be involved with JCT? Why do you think it is important to be involved?

A little over four years ago, Patrick Brown (Assistant Director (Sustainability and Construction) & Head of EU Engagement at the British Property Federation) asked if I would be interested in taking on the role of one of the members of the client college on the Drafting Sub-Committee. Patrick was keen, and I agreed, that the BPF should retain a legal expert within the college. This built upon Ashurst’s membership of the BPF’s Construction Committee (of which Matthew Bool, my co-practice head of Ashurst Real Estate Construction has recently agreed to be Vice Chair).

JCT: Can you tell us about any specific work you’re currently doing with JCT – for instance, your work with the JCT Drafting Sub-Committee?

I have been actively involved in drafting the new JCT 2016 suite of contracts. I also co-presented a Building Magazine-hosted webinar and have written articles in relation to the 2016 suite. I continue to be involved with the drafting of the JCT’s forthcoming contracts as well as other initiatives.

JCT: Do you have any personal career highlights?

I have worked on various multi-faceted, large-scale mandates including Crossrail throughout the project. I think among the most interesting, challenging and forward-thinking have been Westfield’s developments which bookmark London at Westfield Stratford City to the East and Westfield London (White City) to the West. Both were retail-led schemes but also involved complex hotel, office, leisure, residential, energy and infrastructure challenges – in the case of Stratford as part of the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics and the third party interfaces and timeframes that brought. Westfield’s development and construction platform provides a unique facility to quickly extend and enhance its original developments when market conditions are right – albeit with a need for careful procurement and interface on the legal documentation.

JCT: What do you see as the main challenges for the construction industry over the next five years?

It feels like a time of real change for the industry. Technological advances are transforming the building site, for example, through the use of drones and offsite manufacturing. Although modular construction has been around for decades, its use is set to increase. It offers potential solutions to some of the big challenges the industry faces in terms of escalating construction costs, labour shortages (particularly post-Brexit) and the housing crisis. The Chancellor’s endorsement of offsite manufacturing in his Autumn Budget statement was a recognition of the valuable role it could play in the future. The government is also encouraging institutionally-owned Private Rented Sector investment as another means of addressing the shortage in housing and we are seeing increasing client interest in this area.

Poor payment practice has long been on the agenda, but – post-Carillion’s collapse – there is increasing momentum building towards real change, for example, through the government’s review of retention practices and Peter Aldous MP’s Construction (Retention Deposit Schemes) Bill, and also the Payment Practices Regulations 2017 which compel firms over a certain size to publish how long it takes them to pay invoices. There is an element of “naming and shaming” to the obligation to report payment practices and, to a certain extent, I see this as reflective of the growing emphasis on ethical and accountable business practice, for example, in relation to eradicating modern slavery, dealing with gender inequality and addressing occupational and mental health issues within the industry. On a more creative level, I think this idea of responsible business practice is giving clients greater opportunity to take a more holistic approach towards their projects, for example, by achieving better results in terms of the environmental and social impact as well as profit-generation.

JCT: Does JCT have a wider role to play in the industry beyond producing contracts?

JCT contracts remain the most commonly used in the UK. Although NEC contracts have gained market share, the latest NBS National Construction Contracts and Law Report 2018 found that JCT was still the most popular choice and has shown marked growth in the last year while NEC use has contracted. The tone set both within the JCT standard forms, and by the body more generally, is therefore really important within the industry. Another challenge is overcoming both the perception and the reality of the sector as one tarnished by an overly adversarial approach. The idea of a more collaborative way of procuring buildings is far from new but, with the growing focus on partnering and early contractor involvement, there are real opportunities right now for the JCT to play its part in fostering a healthier and happier construction industry.