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Article on this development and their contractors, Ocon Construction taken from Builder & Engineer
[b]Hats off to Ocon Construction
Monday, 22 September 2008
But the gloves are on to deliver the sleekest piece of Manchester’s upper east side
THE SITE of Ocon Construction’s £27m Milliners Wharf scheme in Manchester’s Ancoats district – famed for its ambitious wave of gaudy architecture – is buzzing in July.
With some 150 workers onsite, the contractor is pushing at peak to deliver the nine-storey residential block for troubled developer City Lofts by early next year.
The site, a former hatbox factory, in a district that got its name from a contraction of “ana coats”, or old cottages, is seen as a significant piece in the jigsaw of the area’s £250m facelift.
Once an area that housed the back-to-back slum dwellings of textile workers, developers and the public sector alike, hope the Ancoats project – provocatively dubbed New Islington – can put its industrial past behind it.
Against the grain
In July, heads were turned when the scheme’s developer City Lofts became the highest profile victim of the credit crunch, falling into administration.
And just days earlier, it had put a number of unsold properties into receivership in Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham.
Milliners Wharf will be carrying on as normal.
It is understood that due to the number of flats already sold, it is in both the administrator's and the bank's interests for the project to continue.
Client: City Lofts
Contract: design and build
Main contractor: Ocon Construction
City Lofts forms just 50% of the client, with the remaining 50% being backed by an Australian investor.
When B&E arrives onsite in early July, the site is a constellation of temporary green portable cabins, set back from the extraordinary length of the 170m-long building.
At 40,000 sq m, the site perimeter is vast – a far cry from the closet-confined brownfield sites most contractors are working on in the rest of the city.
“It is the only site I’ve been on with Ocon where we’ve got acres of space,” says senior site manager Peter Carol. “Normally you’ve got the back of the footpath and that’s it.
Ocon was set up three years ago by Opal Property Group to deliver student accommodation.
And, after three years of trading, it is now on the verge of bidding for work in new markets, keen to establish its name on the list of council frameworks, explains its North West regional manager, Steve Jerams. On his wish list, amongst other things, is key worker accommodation, healthcare and education.
The vast volume of space on Milliners Wharf is giving Ocon the luxury to stockpile materials.
This came in handy when the zinc, which will be fastened onto the outside of the Metsec framing to clad the building, arrived onsite three weeks early when the French suppliers went on a three-week holiday during construction.
“Normally you’ve got to be a lot more restrictive when materials come to site and when they go into the building,” Jerams says. “Normally everything’s just-intime delivery.”
After joining Ocon four months ago, previously spending 17 years at Carillion, Jerams is no stranger to delivering high profile projects.
He was project director on Manchester’s Beetham Tower – still the tallest residential tower in Western Europe.
The tower has fuelled much speculation as to the purpose of its extended vertical roof structure, which is included in its 171m-height. “A taxi driver thought that in the event of a terrorist attack, it would slide down and protect the penthouse,” he laughs. “But no, it’s purely aesthetic.”
At 170m long, Milliners Wharf is essentially the Beetham Tower lying down. The south side of the building runs along Ashton Canal. As part of the works, Ocon has put in a new walkway.
Carol says the canal has not really been a major issue, and has led to workers controlling the amount of waste they use. “We’ve got mast climbers on the back, which is limiting the amount of material that can go up the back,” he says. “If you’ve got a scaffold that goes up eight storeys, it can have, in effect, eight floors worth of rubbish, so you’re constantly cleaning it up. With the mast climbers, you’re indirectly controlling the amount of gear your workers take up.”
He explains that Ocon is on target to recycle approximately 80% of waste onsite. It is helping Milliners Wharf to achieve Eco-Homes level “good”.
Three is the magic number
Milliners Wharf has been shrewdly split into three stages, to coincide with a three-stage handover – the first of which is at the end of January 2009.
Carol explains there is a month lag time in each of the three cores of the building. Core one is two floors ahead of core two, which will be two floors ahead of core three. There is a two-week turnaround on each floor.
By nature of the split, walking the length of the building is like traveling through time. Each of the three sections is two weeks ahead of the other.
Milliners Wharf will have 261 apartments and will miss out on a number 13. With credit conditions on the ground tightening, the last thing hardpressed developers want is superstition adding to the woes of low consumer confidence.
Splitting the building into three cores, also proved better to manage the health and safety of the workers, says Carol. “It’s a big job,” he says, “but when you split it down to three managers and divide everything by three, to be honest, we can all look after a block ourselves.”
There are ten main contractors on Milliners Wharf. Carol explains Ocon has fortnightly site safety meetings with its health and safety manager carrying out weekly audits on which the client is copied in. “It is not just our health and safety bosses looking at the figures, it is also the client. In that respect it is open-book,” says Carol.
Six months ago, Ocon rolled out a policy dictating that all workers on its sites would need to wear gloves. “It became apparent that a high percentage of accidents that we were reporting were cuts to the hand,” says Carol. “So we were forced to bring in the gloves policy.”
Ocon also minimises the use of ladders out the use of ladders. “As a rule we try and not use them wherever possible, but it isn’t always possible.”
Ocon’s time at Milliners Wharf runs until March next year, when the final handover is scheduled.
Jerams explains that Ocon has secured at least two thirds of its target orders for next year and will look to break into new markets. With such a healthy order book and solid ground with which to operate a turnover of nearly £100m, does it see itself as a takeover target? “I don’t think we’re under that threat because we’re owned by a developer,” says Jerams.
The next three years will see Ocon hold its position in the market – continuing to operate in its trusted regions of the North West, the Midlands and Yorkshire.
It will also see a steady weaning off of work from its shareholder Opal. Currently 60% is generated from its ties with Opal, and 40% is won from the market. “Our strategy is to try and turn that figure around,” says Jerams.
Ocon will also be reducing the amount of suppliers it uses with the aim of doing more with less. “It is all part of the future,” smiles Jerams. “It’s about working towards what a construction company has to be nowadays.”
Manchester Original Modern