Since the time of Thomas Telford and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (both Fellows of the Royal Society), and latterly the engineers from NASA who opened up space exploration, engineers have earned a place on a pedestal in public opinion.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that they enjoy considerable professional esteem.

It is this esteem, and their undoubted professional skills, which resulted in the development of the special role of the Engineer in civil contracting.  The ambitious civil engineering and infrastructure development for which both Telford (roads, bridges and aqueducts) and Brunel (his railway bridges, tunnels and SS Great Britain) were justifiably famous carried with them significant risks – technological and financial risks, and inevitably the disputes which flowed from each of them.

Technological risks were matters for which engineers could provide design solutions. Financial risks needed to be balanced between the parties.  Disputes were another issue altogether. Ultimately, the challenge was to maintain the momentum of the project, while giving a workable decision on disputes until the whole substantive issue could be dealt with in court, or later in arbitration.

This paper was prepared for an AMINZ breakfast on 11 May 2010, then it grew a bit.

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