LEGAL action is set to erupt on an £8.4 million distribution centre which Galliford Try is building.
It follows news that the firm has blown an estimated £6.5 million hole in its accounts after encountering major difficulties in laying a 25,000 sq m steel fibre reinforced concrete floor for the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) near Northampton.
The cash hit is a major blow to the group, which formed last August and will eat into its forecast £15 million year-end pre-tax profits.
But Galliford Try bosses have confirmed that the group will now look at legal action in an attempt to claw back the money after DIRFT, a subsidiary of Severn Trent Property, demanded that it replace the defective floor.
David Calverley, chief executive of Galliford Try, said: 'We are certainly looking at legal action and are vigorously pursuing all avenues for reducing exposure at this stage.'
Problems began when tests on the suspended slab floor revealed a series of voids appearing in the high-strength concrete.
It is understood that the reinforced steel fibres in the concrete stacked against the reinforcement mesh and bar grille, linking the 2,000 piles on the site. Galliford Try believes this caused the steel to act like a sieve and the concrete to spread unevenly.
Mr Calverley said: 'We have not used this combination of pouring fibre-reinforced concrete on top of additional mesh and bar enforcement before. It's not unique and I believe it's being used elsewhere in the industry but not in this quantity.
'Our initial thoughts are that this is a design-led problem and not the workmanship by the subcontractor.'
Technical consultancy GBG has been called in to help the firm test the floor and will report back within a fortnight.
The distribution centre was due to be handed over to new tenant logistics firm Tibbett & Britten in May.
Ian Taylor, Tibbett & Britten group property director, confirmed this week that it, too, was now looking at launching legal action. He said: 'Obviously it's costing us money and this issue is part of wider problems that have held up work on site.'
Try was appointed as main contractor on the £8.4 million contract last July and the design was led by Bristol-based consultancy W A Fairhurst. The consultancy was unavailable for comment.
Flooring subcontractor Seamless Floors, of Rochdale, Lancashire, started work on site in April.
Managing director Chris Coverdale said: 'We constructed the floor slab to the specifications and with concrete supplied by the main contractor.
'We believe we have met all the requirements and are of the opinion we have conducted ourselves in a professional manner.'
Alarm bells raised over method
GALLIFORD Try was warned about the dangers of using the steel fibre reinforced concrete and steel bar combination only a month before pressing ahead with the ill-fated concrete pour.
Construction News has learned that steel fibre reinforced concrete specialist Twintec, based in Rugby, tore up its £1.6 million flooring contract in March after the contractor and engineering consultant ignored its repeated warnings about using the combination.
Twintec commercial director David Martin said: 'We warned the engineer very early on in the design stages that it was inappropriate to use a combination of steel fibre reinforced concrete and steel bar for a suspended floor slab.
'Using this combination on a large floor area causes an internal restraint condition in the concrete that results in cracking.'
A spokesman for Galliford Try said: 'We were in negotiations with Twintec regarding this project. Unfortunately we could not reach agreement in a mutually satisfactory commercial arrangement.'