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Infamous boxing hall forms new London neighbourhood

A south London boxing venue that played host to the Kray twins forms part of Durkan’s mixed-use development that promises to be a knockout for locals.

Project: Manor Place
Client: Notting Hill Genesis 
Contract value: £67m
Region: London
Main contractor: Durkan
Piling subcontractor: Hill Piling
Brickwork subcontractor: Landmark Brickwork
Start date: February 2016
Completion date: June 2019

You have to look long and hard at a map of London to find any part of the capital that isn’t undergoing some sort of regeneration these days.

Until relatively recently, there were still umpteen neighbourhoods that had been left to stagnate having been dismissed by developers. Many were deemed to be too far out; others ignored due to poor schools or unattractive reputations. Even being ‘south of the river’ was enough to turn some investors away.

Not anymore. Now there is barely a hectare of the capital that hasn’t been poured over by developers assessing viability – and south London is getting its fair share of the action.

The huge redevelopment of Elephant and Castle has made plenty of headlines, but just a few hundred metres up the Walworth Road, main contractor Durkan is busy on a scheme that will be every bit as important to local residents.

The firm’s Manor Place scheme will deliver 272 residential flats as well as small business units on a site that includes a railway bridge embankment, a former coroners court and a Grade II-listed Victorian bathing complex.

Gangland history

Manor Road Baths is a legendary venue in the London boxing scene and hosted hundreds of bouts, with infamous gang bosses Reggie and Ronnie Kray among the participants, before it closed in the late 1970s.

The site became a recycling yard for many years before housing association developer Notting Hill Genesis purchased it from Southwark Council in 2013.

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 011

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 011

The developer deemed both the bath house and coroners court buildings to be equally important to the history of the area, and these are being sympathetically redeveloped as part of the project. They will offer both commercial space and apartments once the work is completed, with the former wash and boiler house being redeveloped as the energy centre for the entire scheme.

“These are locally important historic buildings that we are able to help save,” says Durkan project director Tony Gallagher. “This development safeguards their future and also delivers more desperately needed housing.”

Notting Hill moves south

Despite its name, Notting Hill Genesis isn’t focused on one area of west London, but instead works across the capital and beyond to help provide desperately needed affordable housing.

It has been working with Southwark Council for several years to identify and develop sites that could be used for social and affordable housing. “We have a strategic partnership with Southwark Council,” says Notting Hill Genesis assistant development director Debs Strawbridge. “We have developed and are developing other sites we have acquired from them. Our framework was renewed in 2017, but Durkan has been on that framework for many years.”

The Durkan team was awarded the preconstruction services agreement in September 2016, with construction work on the main contract beginning in February 2017. Completion is set for June 2019.

Part of the deal will see the former bath house and pool buildings converted into commercial units, with the arches to the railway embankment also providing space for small businesses. “We hope the pool building will become a hub for creative businesses and start-ups that can really encourage and develop one another,” Ms Strawbridge says. “The arches we would expect once again to be let to smaller, preferably local businesses and start-ups – cafes and bars, that sort of thing.”

The site is bisected by the railway line that runs north to south ferrying Thameslink passengers into and out of London. The Victorian brick-built embankment upon which it runs features a series of arches that will be refurbished and let out as small commercial units once the project is completed.

At the moment, however, the Durkan team is using these spaces as work areas for joinery and metal cutting shops. “They enable us to keep all the materials, joinery and cutting equipment in specific areas,” Mr Gallagher says. “They are protected from the elements and it means the workforce can work in dry, clean and safer conditions.”

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 003

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 003

With the rail line being live, the team is restricted with the work it can do around the embankment arches. Only a concrete base slab has been poured beneath each so far, with brickwork pointing and repairs having been carried out by Network Rail contractors before the project began.

Toxic clean-up

Across the rest of the site the team has needed to deal with the legacy of its industrial use.

“Most of the contamination was treated on site, but there was some that we had to excavate and remove”

Tony Gallagher, Durkan

Hydrocarbons and heavy metals were found to have contaminated much of the ground, with plans for its remediation drawn up by specialist Leap Environmental. “Most of the contamination was treated on site, but there was some that we had to excavate and remove,” Mr Gallagher explains.

The Museum of London Archaeology was brought onto the site with a watching brief, due in part to the site being a Victorian rubbish tip. Finds have included blown glass and bottles and waste from the R Whites lemonade and drinks factory that once operated from a site nearby. Even a railway turntable was uncovered close to the embankment.

The project team has moved from east to west as construction has progressed. Specialist subcontractor Hill Piling has installed a total of 351 piles of between 400 mm and 600 mm diameter up to 22 m deep, as well as 550 mm-deep ground beams. 

These will support the low-rise four-storey and six-storey cast in-situ reinforced concrete frames of the new apartment buildings. “It was always going to be an in-situ concrete frame; it is quick, flexible and reliable and our frame contractor is very experienced,” Mr Gallagher says.

There are 11 cores in total across the site, with a lift and single stairs in every core. These have been jump-formed by the project team with materials brought onto site and distributed through the three tower cranes that loom over it. “We need three towers because of the awkward layout of the site; it’s quite long and we can’t swing over the railway,” he says.

A million bricks

The cranes will be busy over the construction period.

With the designers deciding on a traditional brickwork façade across the project, there are more than one million bricks to be laid. These numbers make it difficult to not only find a subcontractor capable of completing that volume, but also to secure the supply of bricks.

“The design uses a red brick colour to match with the existing buildings on the site,” Mr Gallagher says. “In the aftermath of Grenfell, lots of schemes wanted to switch from panel systems to traditional façades, and demand for bricks rocketed. We found that our brick supply lead-in time doubled from 13 weeks to 26 weeks almost overnight. Getting the surety of supply is very important.

“That is one of the reasons we went for a large brickwork subcontractor in Landmark Brickwork. With its own strong supply chain, it offers that surety, but it also has more than 500 bricklayers available. That ability to resource the project and capability to complete it offered the best value for us.”

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 021

Durkan Notting Hill Genesis Manor Place 021

Subcontractors Robin Cripps Restoration and Sash Restorations were brought in to carry out work on the existing buildings including repointing, cleaning and replacing masonry where necessary, as well as the complete refurbishment and glazing of the original sash windows.

“We carried out glare analysis for the glazing on the elevations facing the railway”

Tony Gallagher, Durkan

That use of traditional trades has continued inside the new phases of the development. Instead of using tape and joint drylining systems within the apartments, the Durkan team has opted for traditional plaster finishes. “Its personal preference really,” Mr Gallagher explains. “If you can get the trades, then it’s just as quick and I think it gives a better-quality finish.”

The site’s proximity to the railway that runs through the development has seen the project team develop the design and use materials to prevent any issues with reflection or glare dazzling train drivers. “We carried out glare analysis for the glazing on the elevations facing the railway,” Mr Gallagher says. “We also have to work with those glare restrictions during the construction process.”

There are still another 12 months before the project is fully handed over, and with work progressing well on the new-build sections, the focus will turn to the main Manor Road Baths buildings.

The former boxing venue may have been down – but it’s certainly not out.

Unconventional scaffold

Despite being a fan of traditional trades and well-established methods of construction, Mr Gallagher has shied away from the more commonly used tube and fitting type of scaffold for the Manor Place project, opting instead for a system-scaffold structure from manufacturer Layher.

Although popular in mainland Europe, in the UK these prefabricated scaffold sections are generally perceived to be less flexible and adaptable than standard tube and fitting methods. That is a misconception, according to Mr Gallagher. “They are just as adaptable as any other method,” he argues. “They are so simple to use. You need to think about the design a little more, but there are so many advantages, particularly on this project.”

Working so close to the railway was one factor that pointed to this method. With much smaller, lighter members, there were no fears over any impact working alongside the railway, and installation is simple. Even when the bricklayers need to bring the next lift of brickwork through, it is easy enough to drop a step into the scaffold structure to enable them to work through at a comfortable and safe height.

“I’m a big fan. System scaffolds just seem to be a cleaner, tidier option,” Mr Gallagher says. “You know exactly what you are getting and that it has been designed correctly. Tube and fitting systems can easily be cut, or have members removed by well-meaning workers, but that can have dangerous consequences. With a system scaffold it is virtually impossible to carry out any ad-hoc alterations.”

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