The value of environmental consultants going on site
In my first few months as a new graduate (now a sadly receding memory) one of the things that stood out was the leaving speech given by a highways engineer to mark his retirement after 40 years with the company. In his speech he mentioned his biggest regret in his career was a bypass scheme in the north of England, which he worked on as his first job when he joined the company, then subsequently reworked several times over when it sprung back to life as it became the political flavour of the moment and was at that very moment handing it over to someone else as it had landed back on his desk.
Sadly as consultants it is all too common to put blood, sweat and tears into a project that never makes it off the table and I am sure many of you have similar tales of deadlines and work streams that absolutely had to be completed by the first week after Christmas, only to see it now gather dust on a shelf somewhere.
So it was great to hear that the Norton Bridge Grade Separation Project, for which I led the EIA, was granted a Development Consent Order back in 2014 and was now just past the mid-point of construction. Recently I was fortunate enough to be given a guided tour of the site, a fantastic opportunity to see how all of those endless engineering plans I spent hours reviewing during the design phase translated on the ground.
The Norton Bridge scheme was the fourth Network Rail scheme to be granted a Development Consent Order, the consenting mechanism for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) under the Infrastructure Planning Act (A previous article I authored gives some of the background to the consent process for new railways – link).
The project sought to resolve the last major bottleneck on the West Coast Main Line at Norton Bridge Junction by avoiding slow trains crossing the path of fast trains by creating a grade separation of the tracks at this location. The scheme itself required significant infrastructure and construction works which include three major pipeline diversions, 10km of new double track railway, a major highway diversion, twelve new bridges and four watercourse diversions.
In addition to the successful delivery of the Environmental Statement to support the consent application, Temple also provided significant input in to the development of the scheme design. The design phase of the scheme was awarded the highest ever interim CEEQUAL score of 97.4%, with the majority of scheme design highlights cited by CEEQUAL being items delivered by Temple (http://www.ceequal.com/awards_157.html).
When arriving on site the first thing that stood out was how well set up the site compound was. The car park and site offices were on a par with a permanent office development and not that of a construction site. I think when stakeholders imagine a site compound they may well picture a muddy patch of ground, a portacabin on its last legs and some scattered skips. When in reality for a modern construction site this could not be further from the truth. This sense of order was a theme that continued throughout the site.
Parallel rail and road overbridges over the diverted channel of the Meece Brook
At the time of the visit all of the bridge structures and associated watercourse diversions had been completed and earthworks were approximately 50% complete. The work that remained included the highway diversion, the remaining earthworks and the installation of the track infrastructure. The construction process had been progressing well and was a year ahead of programme.
To support the Environmental Statement Temple prepared a draft Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) to form the link between the assessment and construction phases and to demonstrate the mechanism by which the mitigation identified through the EIA would be implemented. When speaking to one of the construction environmental management team it was satisfying to hear that the CEMP had successfully transitioned to the construction phase and had been continually updated and used to manage a range of issues on site.
One of the major issues Temple had to manage during the single option design and EIA phase was the sheer variety of ecology on site. A comprehensive range of ecological mitigation measures were required which consisted of a combination of design mitigation embedded in the scheme, construction mitigation delivered through the CEMP and ecological enhancements. A team of ecologists have been present on site throughout the construction phase in order to monitor and implement the various stages of mitigation.
A purpose built nature reserve was created at a local conference centre and retreat to enable the translocation of animals from construction areas prior to the commencement of works. Our site visit finished off with a quick visit to the reserve to see how it had established. Given the relatively short period since it was constructed the site seemed like it had been there for many years. It was certainly a pleasant spot to relax so it was understandable why the retreat were happy to be the recipients of the reserve.
Nature reserve constructed by the project to act as a translocation site
From a personal perspective the visit was extremely useful to gain an appreciation of the scale and logistics related to a major infrastructure project in construction. I think that for individuals undertaking EIAs the ability to experience at first hand a construction site is hugely beneficial and provides the background knowledge that can translate directly through to the assessment of construction impact.