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Erith presses on with huge Isle of Dogs regen

Specialist is clearing away what was Europe’s largest printworks in east London to make way for more than 700 new homes.

If you catch a Docklands Light Railway train to Canary Wharf and beyond to the Isle of Dogs, the scale of development is astonishing.

Almost everywhere you look it seems like a plot of land is being worked on, with numerous concrete cores and tower cranes rising up from the ground. One of the biggest schemes in the pipeline is the redevelopment of Westferry Printworks, which was the largest printing works in Europe until it was closed in 2011, with operations moved to Luton.

Owned by Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell Media Group, there were “millions of papers printed here each day”, says Mace development manager Bruce Campbell. “This was a huge piece on infrastructure.” But visit the site today and almost all of it is gone.

Luckily large

Mace is acting as development manager, with the project granted planning consent in August last year.

The company will oversee the construction of a number of blocks, the highest reaching 30 storeys, which will become home to more than 700 new residential properties – including 140 affordable homes. Also on the site will be a 1,200-space secondary school, a community centre, crèche, sports and healthcare facilities, as well as some commercial office and retail space.

“We’ve been very lucky – you never get a job on a site this size in London”

Oliver Dowling, Erith

Before construction could begin though, the site had to be cleared. Demolition specialist Erith was brought on board to oversee the demolition of the building. “We’ve been very lucky – you never get a job on a site this size in London,” says Erith project manager Oliver Dowling as we walk around the 6.4 ha plot of land.

Good progress

The team began on site on 3 January this year with soft stripping and internal works, before moving onto begin hard demolition on 10 February. “The majority of the hard demo has been done using high-reach excavators, with the highest reaching to 32 m,” Mr Dowling says.

There were three main structures to bring down: the back building where paper was delivered; the press hall, where the printing took place; and the vanway, where vehicles would come in to pick up the finished newspapers. All that is left standing are the final two structural bays of the press hall, with those expected to be brought down within days of CN’s visit.

“The risk is in the press hall slab. They had a number of really heavy, large coffins in there, with vast quantities of reinforcement where the printing presses sat”

Oliver Dowling, Erith

The demolition of the superstructure has been relatively straightforward for the team so far, with Mr Campbell saying Erith is “comfortably ahead of programme”. The team has taken a bay-by-bay approach to the demolition, and while Mr Dowling emphasises that it hasn’t been easy, the methodology was a fairly simple one.

“We use controlled dropping – we cut the legs and use excavators to pull the building to the ground,” he says. “We then separate that material into the various waste streams.”

Erith uses its own haulage to carry away waste for re-use elsewhere, with Mr Dowling stating that the team is targeting a recycling rate of 99 per cent for the project.

“All of the concrete is being crushed and retained on site for use in the piling mats for the new development,” he says. Around 55,000 tonnes of concrete has been processed so far, Mr Dowling estimates, with 3,000 tonnes of steel also recovered at this point – and the same amount again still to be processed.

Risky slab

Despite the reasonably straightforward programme so far, there is still one relatively risky portion of work to come once the press hall superstructure has been brought down – in technical terms at least.

“The risk is in the press hall slab,” Mr Dowling says. “They had a number of really heavy, large coffins [frames to hold the type for the printing presses] in there, with vast quantities of reinforcement where the presses sat. We won’t really know what we’re dealing with until we get in there – but if it goes well, it will be smooth sailing from then onwards.”

There was also a basement that ran along the northern edge of the site following an extension that was put in some decades ago, which means that care had to be taken with temporary works to ensure there was no risk during plant movements.

Erith also left large portions of the building’s external curtain wall standing to act as a handy dust and noise buffer.

“We’ve got residents on our northern boundary, as well as Millwall South Dock to the south and more residents across the water,” Mr Dowling says. “Between 8am and 10am and 4pm and 6pm we aren’t allowed to do any percussive drilling – less restrictive than in the City, but it still needs to be planned.”

The site’s eastern boundary is home to a number of data centres, so dust monitoring has been in place to ensure that nothing gets into their air filtration systems, too.

As the superstructure demolition continues, the team is also carrying out ground investigation to determine the nature of the site before construction begins. Bore holes are being drilled down to 8 m as part of this process.

“We have to have a remediation strategy in place as part of the planning condition for the new build,” Mr Campbell says. “So whatever we discover, we will develop a strategy and carry that out before the next phase.”

The new-build element includes a large common basement, so sheet piling will begin for that before the end of June, alongside the ground remediation. Then, subject to design changes and ground conditions, the vertical build will begin in 2019.

“The stepped towers fit in well with the skyline [of Canary Wharf] behind,” Mr Campbell says. “And that includes the towers that are still planned and yet to be built.

“It’s an unusually large site and a great project to be involved in.”

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