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Balfour Beatty recycles Manchester tower block

Contractor has achieved 100 per cent reuse or recycling of non-hazardous materials on West Gorton regeneration’s demolition phase.

Demolition is not usually synonymous with sustainability. By its very nature, the sector is involved in the business of taking down buildings – not preserving them.

Balfour Beatty’s demolition of five tower blocks on the West Gorton residential estate, however, was carried out to the highest sustainability standards.

Even though the buildings will soon no longer exist, 100 per cent of the non-hazardous material they contain will be reused or recycled.

Sailing to completion

The tower block demolition is part of the widespread regeneration of West Gorton, an estate first built in the 1960s. Balfour Beatty oversaw the demolition of around 300 low-rise houses in the first phase, before moving on to the estate’s five tower blocks for phase two.

Work on the final tower block began just before Christmas last year and is due to finish this month. The team decided that a high-reach demolition method would be best for the 16-storey-high tower block, and demolition subcontractor Forshaw Demolition used a 46 m high-reach machine to carry out the job.

“The first tower we knocked down was quite laborious because of the wind – there were lots of stoppages”

Chris Duffy, Balfour Beatty

Recent spells of bad weather coupled with close proximity to nearby existing housing meant the team had to use a demolition mat.

“This was essentially a 26 m-high sail between the high-rise and the housing,” explains Balfour Beatty senior project manager Chris Duffy.

The mat was made of rubber and screened residents from debris resulting from the works – but when wind speeds hit 5 m/sec, as they did many times over the winter, work had to stop.

“The first tower we knocked down was quite laborious because of the wind – there were lots of stoppages,” Mr Duffy says.

100% recycling

The team has focused on reusing as much material as possible from the tower blocks.

Concrete is being crushed and reused as fill in local road and sewer developments; timber is being sent to a factory to be used in making MDF products; and even all of the building’s soft furnishings, such as carpets and curtains, have been sent to a local recycling facility where they will be turned into pellets for use in biomass power stations.

“Other than asbestos, we’ve had full recycling,” Mr Duffy says. “All the steel from the building’s frame has also been recycled.”

Community engagement

The close proximity to existing housing was the team’s biggest challenge.

“The houses nearby were bungalows and some had severely disabled residents,” Mr Duffy explains. “It was a challenge keeping all of those people happy and making sure we took the towers down in the time we’d been given.”

“The towers grab the attention, but the 300 houses demolished before that were a big logistical headache due to the road closures needed to carry out over a larger area”

Chris Duffy, Balfour Beatty

Balfour Beatty’s team worked hard to engage with the local community from the very beginning of the project, holding a communications evening in a local school.

“The tower block demolitions were essentially mirror images of a scheme that Forshaw had already carried out in Barking, London,” Mr Duffy says.

“So they were able to explain to residents exactly what they’d done before and how this would progress.”

Wider regeneration

The demolition of West Gorton has been taking place for most of the past year, with the tower blocks the final piece of the puzzle.

“We’ve been here for 52 weeks so the tower blocks are just the end of a much bigger project,” Mr Duffy says.

“The bigger picture here is the 300 houses that were demolished prior to this – we’ve effectively knocked down all of West Gorton.

“The towers grab the attention, but the houses were a big logistical headache due to the road closures needed to carry out over a larger area.”

Both the low and high-rise demolitions have progressed to plan, with the land to be handed back to Manchester City Council to continue with the redevelopment of the area.

“The estate was seen as a bit of a problem by local residents so most were happy to see it regenerated,” Mr Duffy says. “All of the buildings we’ve demolished will be replaced with new residential housing, improving the area for the local people.”

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