Dean & Dyball project manager Andy Mitchell is a marked man. He and the other site staff are regularly used as target practice by gangs of men - and sometimes women - for no good reason other than they are there.
But this is no crime-ridden, inner city site. It is the county cricket ground in the centre of Taunton, Somerset.
And the gangs of men and women are dressed all in white, trying to club cricket balls over the site fence and into the middle of the development Mr Mitchell is spearheading for client Pegasus Homes.
“There is no doubt about it,” says Mr Mitchell. “They try to pick us out. Well they would, wouldn’t they?”
That the site team now building a 3,000-capacity spectator stand and 65 retirement flats overlooking the cricket pitch is targeted by willow-wielding batsmen is not a complete surprise. The site is an inviting pull shot through deep mid-wicket.
But the volume of development being squeezed into this small triangle of land is surprising. The site is hemmed in between the River Tone to the west, the Brewhouse Theatre to the south and the cricket pitch itself to the east.
Further sections of the £12.5 million scheme run around the field’s western boundary until reaching fine leg - the southern end, for those unfamiliar with cricket. But the bulk of the project will be built in the wedge around the River Tone and stretching up to the stand built and named to honour one of Somerset and England’s finest players - Sir Ian Botham.
It is a tight site and one that has required some negotiation between Somerset County Cricket Club and Pegasus to arrive at a level of development both are happy with.
“We have been talking with the cricket club about the potential development for some time,” says Pegasus Homes operations director Mike Gill. “We were introduced about five years ago and have had extensive discussions with the planners since then until arriving at the design we have now. It is a departure from what we would normally expect to build.”
In the residential retirement market the onus is on tradition but here the planners wanted something a little more contemporary to fit in with the overall regeneration of the town - Project Taunton.
It aims to help redevelop the town by regenerating separate ‘quarters’. Under plans drawn up by the Project Taunton partners, Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, the Environment Agency and the South West of England Development Agency, there will be significant redevelopment of the commercial core adjacent to the town’s mainline railway station with smaller offices and residential development alongside the river. The Cultural Quarter will stretch from the cricket ground and on through the town to Taunton Castle.
Part of that project will be landscaping and redevelopment to open up the banks of the river, a project Dean & Dyball is hoping to win, since it runs alongside the present site.
But for the time being Mr Mitchell is more concerned with the part of the scheme designed to keep out the river should it ever become swollen with rainwater. “As part of the project we have to build a flood alleviation wall. It’s a big wall,” he says.
He is not wrong. Standing some 2.5 m high and running for 100 m at the back of the new stand and along the river bank, the cast in situ, reinforced concrete, brick-clad wall seems on the face of it a little over-designed. It is difficult to imagine that the presently benign waters of the River Tone will ever test it severely.
And its presence is causing Mr Mitchell some headaches. There is so little space between the back of the stand, the new flood wall and the existing footpath along the river bank that the toe for its footings has had to be positioned underneath part of the new stand.
“We have a decent relationship with the Environment Agency and the wall is part of its requirements, so we just have to get on with it,” he says. “We had restricted access and could only get small plant in there. It was like digging the footings with a teaspoon.”
There is another pinch point where the wall and ground slab for the apartments bridge a culvert, which runs beneath the cricket field, emptying into the River Tone.
“We had to bridge it, because the corner of the residential block sits right on top of it,” Mr Mitchell says. “There are massive foundations over it.”
Specialist contractor Piling Solutions drove 450 mm diameter end bearing piles 15-20 m into the underlying clay of the Somerset levels to accommodate the building, while some 130 cu m of concrete will be poured into the foundations running over the top of the culvert, adding to the thousands of cubic metres being used to build the four-storey, reinforced concrete frame structure.
The project team elected to use cast in situ concrete rather than precast concrete or steel during the construction of the residential part of the development for a number of reasons but principally because of the impact on the programme any bad weather could have.
“The trouble with precast concrete is, if you have two weeks of bad weather it can really knock your timetable around,” he says. “If we have a summer like the one we had last year that could have hit us hard. The stand has to be finished by September and the apartments by May next year. In situ concrete is just a bit of a safer bet really."
On the ground floor of the apartment block 250-300 mm-deep slabs will be cast on top of 1.5 m-deep ground beams. At first floor and above, beam thicknesses reduce to 1.2 m.
The ground floor of the development will accommodate a car park, offices and a restaurant and here Pegasus wanted to design in plenty if space, hence the size of the beams.
“We wanted bigger spans in the car park and 14-15 m is a fair span for reinforced concrete beams,” says Mr Gill.
Mr Mitchell is looking to cut back on the weight of reinforcement steel being used on the project and is considering the use of steel fibre-reinforced concrete. He is investigating the effect its use would have on the pumps used by concreting contractor Pochin and whether or not supplier Tarmac’s batching plant just down the road can supply it.
“We are all looking at how we can reduce the rebar levels even more and whether we can actually replace it with fibre. It could be effective,” he says.
Making a stand
The team has made good progress on the erection of the steel-framed, single-rake, precast concrete terraced stand.
Built to house 3,000 spectators, it features five vomitories with toilets and kiosks housed underneath the rake of seats.
The stand is built in two stages and features 350 mm-deep steel main beams and raking beams measuring 450 mm.
Structural steel specialist contractor William Haley is erecting the top tier all the way around the stand before the lower tier is placed, enabling Mr Mitchell to squeeze site plant in alongside the boundary - and provide Somerset’s batsmen with more moving targets.
With so much being crammed in to such a small site there is not much room to swing the proverbial cat let alone erect a tower crane. But such are the demands for the project a small gap has been found, enabling the crane to be erected within the lift shaft itself.
Just 200 mm separates the lift shaft from the crane legs so all the formwork will be dropped in as the crane is erected, enabling shuttering carpenters to fix as the crane goes up, then strike it all in stages as the crane comes down at the end of the project.
Even at the back of the stand, where the bulk of the drainage will run, there is precious little room. Retiring cricket fanatics looking for a pitch-side flat with a balcony will have just 800 mm clearance between the edge of their balcony and the paying customers.
“There is not much room anywhere on this site. There are also new water and gas mains and an electricity sub-station to get in. It takes a lot of planning,” says Mr Mitchell.
One feature of the redeveloped ground will be the landscaped earth bank in its southernmost corner, next to St James’ church.
The club has purchased some of the graveyard from the church and will use it to build Gimblett’s Hill – a landscaping feature in homage to one of Somerset’s most famous cricketing sons Harold Gimblett, who famously clubbed 123 runs from just 175 deliveries on his debut for the county in 1935. But the work has meant the exhumation of some of the bodies in the churchyard. Archaeological watchers stood alongside the Dean & Dyball site staff as the graves were being exhumed and inspected before being given the all clear to reinter them.
“The graves were hundreds of years old but even so you still have to treat them with respect. They were inspected by the archaeologists before we backfilled around them, covering them with geotextiles and lightly compacted sand,” says Mr Mitchell.