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Something surprising is happening across two London sites that ticks all the boxes of partnering and collaborative working. So much so that, if they already know about it, the construction policy types are probably purring in appreciation.
Two sites nestled together in the cramped streets of London are sharing cranes to carry out both of their jobs. How will be explained later - but the reason why becomes obvious when you consider their location.
The City of London is often known as the Square Mile for exactly that reason. Within its tight confines are the series of roads and streets that make up this compact little area of London that employs around 350,000 people but only has 10,000 living within it when the bankers, the traders and office workers leave for the night.
Gresham Street, Cheapside, Leadenhall, London Wall and Threadneedle Street are names that trip off the tongue for those steeped in financial history.
Yet Ironmonger Lane, a few hundred yards down the road from the Bank of England and across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral, isn’t one of the City’s more famous names.
It is a tight, narrow haven of peace and quiet, and is probably one of those streets film producers die for when shooting period dramas. But for Killby & Gayford this lane initially promised only headaches, when last October it arrived on site at the end of Gresham Street, which lies at the end of the narrow Ironmonger Lane.
The £3.5 million job in hand was bread and butter for the £70 million turnover firm - refurbishment of a five-storey Grade II-listed building that was once home to the Lord Mayor of London, with an extra storey added and a new roof put on top.
The issue was that it needed a crane - space restrictions had ruled out mobiles - but had no space to put one.
The solution came down to communication - and good old common sense.
“This idea,” says K&G’s regional operations director Paul Fletcher, “that contractors don’t talk to each other is just plain wrong.”
Next door, Costain, already on site, had a crane in place, on hire from tower crane firm HTC. A second went up just before Christmas. Both oversailed K&G’s site, so rather than mess around with getting oversail licences the two developers on the jobs came up with the idea of sharing the same crane.
Under the so-called party wall agreement, they left it up to the contractors to make sure the arrangement worked.
K&G has a credit of 100 hours’ use of the crane. The firm can only use it between 8 am and 2 pm on Mondays, and even then K&G’s senior site manager Alan Maile has to give his counterpart at Costain 10 days’ notice.
K&G uses Costain’s radios when carrying out lifts. At such times Costain provides one banksman, as does K&G, who also doubles up as a hoist operator.
Costain’s banksman ties on the K&G load in the Costain loading bay. If it falls off, it is Costain’s responsibility.
The cranes come down on 14 May. Linked to this is an agreement that pushes the partnering boundaries further. If Costain - which retains control of the cranes because it hired them - decides it does not need them any more, say, next month, it cannot take them down until 14 May.
K&G is honest enough to admit that it would prefer the cranes to remain up until it finishes after this date, but 14 May it is.
“If we were being selfish we’d want it for the whole duration because you never know,” says Mr Fletcher. “We’ve got to plan ahead a lot more.”
Steel, plant and glazing are the materials and products that the crane is being used to lift and recently two thirds of the 12 tonnes of steel needed for the job was craned in.
Local supplier Capital Steel Fabrications worked the previous weekend to make sure its delivery to site was ready for the Monday morning.
Mr Fletcher says: “They’re aware of the limitations we’ve got. If they miss a deadline then that could affect us for the rest of that week. But we’ve had no problems.”
The glazing has not gone in yet and the firm may have to use a mobile for this part of the work. This would involve a road closure which would take up to eight weeks in advance to sort out, something both Mr Fletcher and Mr Maile are keen to avoid.
Mr Maile reckons that K&G has used around 20 hours of the cranes’ time and he says he has to be careful not to overbook it.
He adds: “If we book it for three hours and use it for half that, then we get charged for the full three. But then if they need to put scaffold on our site it’s a case of ‘you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours’.”
There have been cases where this kind of give and take has come to the surface. A crane driver was ill once, so scuppering K&G’s Monday lift. But the two sites agreed a new time and the lift was done later that week.
The relationship has been handled at site level and shows that not every one in the industry is at each other’s throats.
“There has been no problem where we have had to get the directors involved,” says Mr Fletcher. “It has been maintained at Alan’s level and that is how it should be.”
Mr Fletcher admits he was worried at the start. “I’ll be honest, we were a bit nervous and a bit sceptical. The idea of relying on another contractor, a much bigger contractor as well, made me nervous.
“But construction is a small industry and you never know when a site manager is looking for work. It’s in no one’s interest for it to fail.”
Mr Maile reckons he has carried out about a dozen lifts and probably needs a similar number to make sure everything else is craned into place. “It can be a bit stressful because it’s not our crane,” he says, “but it’s a real contractual arrangement between the pair of us.”
The City is peppered with cranes loading and unloading stuff. A few paces opposite the Costain site is a Mace Plus site. Around the other corner, Galliford Try is working away. Both sites have cranes on them.
It has led Mr Fletcher and Mr Maile to ponder whether their experience might be feasible at other sites.
“There are so many cranes in the City,” Mr Fletcher says, “that I wonder if this type of arrangement could be used more.”
Who knows, perhaps it will be a blueprint of things to come - Mr Maile, a 32-year veteran of the industry, has never heard of this arrangement before - but there is a more immediate moral to the story.
Partnering will only work if it is carried out at a local level. It cannot be imposed because people higher up the chain happen to think it is a good idea.
“It just shows,” Mr Fletcher says, “what can be achieved if there is a solution that can be an advantage to both parties.”
In the basement of Ironmonger Lane lies a Roman mosaic that has been dated to 220 AD.
Developer MBK Real Estate wants to make a feature out of it and employees will be able to go down and have a look and find out a bit more about the history in their midst.
It was first discovered in 1949 while further excavations took place in 1983 and 1995 to uncover the substantial remains of an L-shaped Roman town house. The mosaic was originally laid on a concrete slab 40 mm to 100 mm thick.
It was attached to the underlying bed by a thin layer of yellow mortar.
The mosaic is covered by thick glass and will be surrounded by a series of information boards detailing what has been found.
A year on Ironmonger Lane
Killby & Gayford’s contract for MBK Real Estate Europe, part of Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, involves extending floor space at Ironmonger Lane by just over third.
The work has involved taking down old plant, demolishing the area where it was located and removing the fifth floor roof and demolishing the internal walls.
The task is to extend the building by one floor and involves structural alterations and a steel frame extension.
Work also requires infilling a lightwell and constructing a new mansard roof with a plant area.
New floors are brick construction with traditional timber floors, while new toilets are being fitted throughout. M&E work is being carried out by Briggs & Forrester.
Glazed curtain walling will be used at the building to allow natural light in – a good idea given that Ironmonger Lane is a tight spot and natural light would not, at first glance, appear to be a at a premium.
Two lifts running from the basement – where the mosaic is – to the newly created sixth floor will also be fitted.
The whole job is scheduled to take just under a year, 49 weeks, and will finish in September.
And it is worth remembering that one third of this period, the bit running from the middle of May through to completion, will be carried out without those cranes Killby & Gayford has come to rely on.
Instead of the cranes, which were first used when Lancebox carried out demolition work, Killby & Gayford will be having to rely on three hoists and a possible mobile to lift materials around the site.
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