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Government pumps cash into £93m Aston Expressway repairs

The Government has agreed to fund the £93m strengthening and repair programme to a key viaduct on the northern section of the Aston Expressway between Birmingham city centre and the M6 motorway.

The Tame Valley Viaduct, which carries about 80,000 vehicles a day, was starting to show signs of deterioration.

Without government funding, the viaduct would need weight and width restrictions within a few years and, over time, the link could potentially face full closure.

The Government is putting £72m into the project which is expected to cost £93.5m with the remaining funding coming from Birmingham City Council and the Local Growth Fund.

Work is due to start on an extensive strengthening programme next year with structure remaining open to traffic throughout. The vast project is expected to take nearly five years to complete.

Proposals involve major strengthening and refurbishment works on the viaduct, ensuring it can continue to carry heavy vehicles. It will remain open to traffic throughout the duration of works.

There are also plans to apply a protective anti-corrosion paint system to the structure alongside other general refurbishments, preserving the longevity of the viaduct and minimising the need for future work.

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Record-breaking TBM on way to Silvertown Tunnel

The largest tunnel boring machine to be used in the UK has passed factory tests and is being shipped in pieces from Germany to the Silvertown Tunnel project in East London.

The diameter of the TBM measures 11.91m – equivalent of almost three double decker buses – dwarfing other recent tunnelling machines.

First machine pieces have begun to arrive on site from maker Herrenknecht’s works keeping the programme of assembly on track for the TBM launch next Spring.

A joint venture between BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Construction and SK Ecoplant, known as Riverlinx Construction, is delivering 1.4km twin-lane road tunnel under the River Thames, linking North Greenwich and Silvertown.

How TBMs measure up

Silvertown diameter (11.9m); weight 1,800 tonnesCrossrail project (7.1m); 526 tonnesNorthern line extension (6.03m); 310 tonnesThames Tideway project (8.85m); 780 tonnes.Largest HS2 TBM (10.3m); 2,000 tonnesChannel Tunnel (8.8m); 1,100 tonnes

The TBM will set off from the Silvertown launch chamber, piling for which is now completed and is currently being excavated.

It will then be rotated and relaunched from the Greenwich Peninsula, to excavate the second tunnel, completing a total drive of 2.2km.

The ability to turn the TBM around is an important feature of its bespoke design which also incorporates the need for it to navigate its way through the stiff clay layers and boulders in this part of London.

When finished, it will have excavated nearly 600,000 tonnes of material, extracted by barges along the river to keep construction traffic to a minimum during the project.

Juan Jose Bregel, Project Director, Riverlinx CJV: “It gives me and the delivery team an enormous sense of pride to have reached this important milestone for the Silvertown Tunnel project.

“Not only seeing the works really taking shape in preparation for launch at the two main sites at Silvertown and Greenwich but feeling the excitement of what is still to come as the pieces of the TBM arrive to be reassembled and launched in the first quarter of 2022.”


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JCB workers get £750 Christmas bonus

JCB workers are being given a £750 Christmas bonus.

The bonus will be paid to more than 6,000 employees – including agency staff with over 12 months’ service – working at JCB’s 11 plants in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Wrexham.

JCB CEO Graeme Macdonald said: “This year we will produce a record number of machines and this bonus rewards a tremendous team effort. We are still facing severe challenges caused by unprecedented supply chain disruption which is impacting on production, and we expect this to continue for the first six months of next year.”

Toby Bell, 27,  is a Business Degree Apprentice at JCB’s World HQ in Rocester, Staffs, and this is his first JCB Christmas bonus.

He said: “It’s a big motivator to get rewarded like this and a real boost. It’s really kind of JCB to give us a Christmas bonus and to be recognised for the hard work everyone has put in this year.”

Early Careers Scheme Leader Holly Broadhurst, 27, of Leek, said: “This has come as a really fantastic surprise. It’s tremendous that everyone’s hard work and dedication has been rewarded.”

Backhoe Loader Team Leader Kevin Pickles, 40, of Mickleover, near Derby, added: “It’s brilliant. Everyone is buzzing in the factory today. It’s going to give my two kids, Freddie, five and Amelia, two, a great Christmas.”

Backhoe Loader Production Support Specialist Kait Williams, 21, of Church Leigh, near Uttoxeter, added “It’s brilliant news. This bonus is going to give everyone a great Christmas.”

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Greystar JV targets London for £1.8bn build to rent homes push

Property investor Greystar Real Estate has teamed up with a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to develop build to rent housing in London and its commuter towns.

The JV plans to spend £1.8bn on a pipeline of new-build projects, starting with a project in London’s Battersea district where it hopes to build 14,000 sq m of residential and commercial space at Lombard Street.

Both investors are targeting London, following a similar deal in 2015 in the Netherlands, which created a portfolio of more than 6,000 homes for students and young professionals.

To springboard into the London market, the JV has also confirmed it will buy private rental business Fizzy Living from Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing.

This will see its take over management of nearly 1,000 occupied homes and take on 30 Fizzy Living staff, at a portfolio valuation of £400m.

The Fizzy Living assets are well-located and close to public transport in Canning Town, Lewisham, Epsom, Stepney Green, Poplar, Walthamstow, Hayes and Silvertown. Greystar will start capital improvements and other operational enhancements.

Mark Allnutt, senior managing director – Europe, Greystar, said:“Demographic trends and a severe structural undersupply of housing is driving demand for high quality rental homes in the UK, so this remains a high conviction investment strategy for Greystar.

“We have a highly successful relationship with ADIA in the Netherlands and now have a unique opportunity to create a rental housing portfolio of substantial scale in London and its surrounding commuter towns.

“The Fizzy transaction provides us with day one access to eight operational assets and a host of new team members that we are pleased to welcome to Greystar.

“In addition, we will grow the portfolio through our newly formed partnership with ADIA from the ground up.”


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First pier poured for UK’s longest rail viaduct – video

Construction of the UK’s longest railway bridge has taken a major step forward with completion of the first of 56 giant concrete piers to support the Colne Valley Viaduct as it crosses a series of lakes on the outskirts of London.

Stretching for 3.4km, the viaduct near  Hillingdon was cast by concrete specialist Kilnbridge working in partnership with engineers from HS2’s main works contractor Align JV.

Weighing in at around 370 tonnes, the 6m tall reinforced concrete pier was cast on site using a specially-designed formwork. This was then removed after four days to reveal the final product.

Each pier is designed to support the full weight of the deck above and rests on a set of concrete piles going up to 55m into the ground.

This foundation work began earlier this year and will require the construction of 292 piles and 56 pile caps across the whole length of the viaduct.

The construction team have also now completed the first of four jetties across the lakes to get equipment into position to support the construction thereby taking construction vehicles off local roads. Where the viaduct crosses the lake, the piles will be bored directly into the lakebed, using a cofferdam to hold back the water while the pier is constructed.

Align’s project director, Daniel Altier, said: “I have no doubt that the viaduct will become one, if not the most striking element of HS2 phase 1 once complete.”

The main deck of the viaduct – which supports the railway line – will be built in 1000 separate unique segments at a temporary factory nearby before being assembled from north to south, starting next year.

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M Group buys Babcock power lines arm for £50m

Infrastructure specialist contractor M Group Services has bought Babcock’s Overhead Line Power business for £50m.

Following the acquisition, the business will be rebranded to form part of Morrison Energy Services, sitting alongside and enhancing existing electricity, gas and green energy capabilities.

In latest accounts to March 2021, the power business reported total revenues of £70m and pre-tax profit around £7m before allocated overheads.

The overhead line electric transmission and distribution business counts among its clients including National Grid, Scottish Power Energy Networks and Western Power Distribution.

Jim Arnold, Chief Executive M Group Services, said: “It is important for us to deliver sustainable growth both organically and through acquisitions and we are pleased to strategically enhance our capabilities with this acquisition which provides the means to accelerate our growth by delivering a greater breadth of electricity transmission services to our clients.

“The culture, capabilities and reputation that have become synonymous with this business make it a perfect fit for us. We are delighted to welcome David Maddocks and his team to M Group Services.”

David Maddocks, Director of Babcock Power, added: “I am extremely excited to be joining M Group Services. Our overhead line capability compliments the existing range of services and provides a solid platform to grow in a market that has great opportunity for expansion.”

This acquisition takes the total number of strategic acquisitions made by M Group Services to 15 since December 2016.

52 jobs axed as industrial coating specialist goes under

Staffordshire-based specialist Industrial Coating Services has fallen into administration with the loss of 52 jobs.

ICS, which specialised in the surface preparation and application of protective coatings, suffered from critical cash flow issues arising from a sustained period of working on loss-making contracted work.

Since last year ICS was working on the major Wandsworth Bridge refurbishment in London which is now due to be completed next summer after further additional critical works were identified on the structure.

The original contract with VolkerLaser is understood to have been secured for around £3m.

The business, which operated from an industrial paint shop building in Rugeley, was marketed for sale prior to the administrators’ appointment, but a buyer could not be found.

Ben Jones from administrators FRP Advisory , said: “Without significant investment or the prospect of new ownership, ICS was unable to trade through its difficulties and continue as a going concern.

“All trading and operations have ceased. Regrettably, all of the 52 employees have been made redundant, although a small number will continue to support the administrators with their statutory duties. ”



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Birmingham Council cuts KPIs to simplify £2.7bn highways deal

Birmingham City Council has cut hundreds of KPIs during a restructuring of its troubled £2.7bn highways PFI contract.

The tender process for a new contractor for the revamped 12-year deal will start in February.

Birmingham originally signed a 25-year, £2.7bn highways management and maintenance contract back in 2010 with Amey.

But the contractor became embroiled in a lengthy performance dispute with the council which ended in March 2020 with Amey paying £215m to terminate its involvement in the PFI deal.

Kier stepped in as interim contractor while the council and Birmingham Highways Limited – the special purpose vehicle owned by Equitix and PIP Infrastructure Investments – have been working to restructure the contract.

The new contract will cover the remaining 12 years of the initial agreement, from April 2023 to June 2035.

It will be a bespoke deal similar in length to a standard long-term maintenance contract, with operational terms and a performance regime that enables it to be “brought up to date to better reflect current industry standards which have changed over the past decade.”

Birmingham said: “The new contract has been structured to provide better governance of the project and more balanced risk between the Council, the SPV and the future contractor.

“A key element of this is a reduction in key performance indicators from over 600 to around 28 as well as prioritisation of deliverables, addressing both areas which routinely plagued the previous contractor Amey during its tenure as subcontractor.”

Prospective bidders will go through a competitive and transparent tendering process which is due to begin in February 2022, following the supplier day in January.

The process will be conducted over a period of nine months and be structured to provide bidders with sufficient time to undertake due diligence.

During the interim period, an updated Management Information System (MIS) was implemented to collect data from across the road network to provide a greater understanding of current conditions and areas for improvement.

Bidders will be provided with access to this information via a data room, which includes a database of assets and will allow bids to be informed by bidders’ due diligence and analysis.

The data room will include new information about the current status of the road network from improved data collection and analysis, including full network surveys of carriageway conditions that have been undertaken by independent surveyors.

This information will be shared with bidders during the tendering process, providing them with the most detailed understanding of the status of the network to date and provide greater clarity over what can be delivered over the term period.

The contract covers capital works and maintenance of more than 2,500km of roadways and 5,000km of footways across the UK’s largest authority and second largest city, as well as 846 structures, three tunnels, 94,000 street lighting columns, 76,000 highway trees and the city’s traffic control system.

Kevin Hicks, Assistant Director for Highways and Infrastructure of Birmingham City Council, said: “Extensive work has been put in over the last two years by all of the project parties and with the close support of the DfT in order to establish a workable and deliverable contract framework.

“Many lessons have been learned from the first 10 years of the project and with the insight we have gained from the industry through previous engagement exercises believe that we have an attractive prospect for the market.”

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Green light for major Bristol office scheme

Plans for three new office blocks around a ruined church at the edge of Castle Park in Bristol have got the go-ahead from city planners.

Developer MEPC can now proceed with its plan to replace three former 1960s bank buildings at the corner of Wine Street and High Street with one nine-storey and two eight-storey office blocks, offering ground-level shops and cafes.

Under plans drawn up by architect FCBStudios, the ruined St Mary le Port church tower will be restored, and three historic city centre streets that were lost during the Blitz will be restored.

Roz Bird, commercial director at MEPC, said “After two years of detailed consultation with local stakeholders in the community, we are delighted that the Development Control Committee voted in favour of our application to rejuvenate the St Mary le Port site.”

An increase of 85% in biodiversity will be provided across the scheme, with an extensive planting scheme that will include over 70 new trees in and around the site, improvements to Castle Park itself and biodiverse terraces and green roofs.



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Plan submitted for 30-floor Salford resi tower

Manchester-based property developer CERT property has submitted plans for a 30-floor residential tower on Salford’s Clippers Quay.

The vertically zoned tower block, designed by OMI Architects, will offer a range of private living experiences from lower level affordable to top-floor luxury.

Local Manchester builder Domis Construction has been lined up for the project.

The lower brick-clad 9 floors will be set aside for co-living studios for people who want to try out the lifestyle available in the building with an affordable rental cost.

Above will be 15 floors of one and two-bedroom flats with high specification kitchens, bathrooms and all bills included.

In the top section of the building will be 15 luxury penthouse apartments with views Salford Quays and a top floor skybar.

In its consultation CERT said: “Successful urban areas such as Salford are seeing an influx of talented people from across the world.

“Cities have responded by delivering more city-centre residential accommodation, but these are often focused on the luxury areas of the market, meaning adults at the earlier stages of their career, or on lower incomes, may be forced to live in a less convenient and desirable location.

“Not with community living, our Clippers Quay development provides a variety of private living options for all.”

Project team


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