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A multi-million pound food production development which will enable mass indoor growing of the highest-quality British strawberries has remained on track for its target opening as vital building works have continued throughout the Covid-19 lockdown.
Construction director Louis Bradley has revealed how CambridgeHOK, build partner on the project for Lincolnshire-based Beeswax Dyson Farming, has pulled out all the stops to maintain progress.
First works on the six hectare glasshouse packaging and cold store development in Carrington, near Boston, had been scheduled to start just days after the UK was placed into lockdown by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 23.
Mr Bradley says this announcement caused huge concerns over whether the project could start on time - and the possible impact of indefinitely delaying a nine-month build.
"Like all in construction companies we faced a difficult situation, especially as we were right at the start of scheduled site preparation work on this very important project," he said.
"It was essential for our client to not have any delay as that could lead to potentially missing a full growing season, which of course would have caused significant financial loss and possibly even threatened the overall viability of the project.
"We followed Government guidelines over essential work and projects, which this is given it is British food production, and social distancing. We've also ensured that we have followed the advice of the Construction Leadership Council for firms working firms working in lockdown to ensure we could start on site safely."
As initial ground works (which have included the removal of 75,000 square metres of top soil and earth grading to prepare the site for the glasshouse structure) were to be carried out by a small team, a decision was taken for accommodation to be provided for each worker on site, where they stayed 24 hours a day.
A specialist Covid-19 supervisor was also specifically employed to ensure all workers remained at safe distances and had staggered working and break times, whilst a constant cleaning regime was put in place to ensure the highest hygiene standards.
"It's not the norm for us to bring living accommodation onto site and have workers stay there day and night, but given the closure of hotels and the need to keep the number of people coming on and off site to a minimum, it was the best option and one the workers were very willing to take," said Mr Bradley.
With 600 concrete piles already completed for the main building on the site, work is now due to start on the foundations. Steel work for the huge glasshouse, which will form the frame of the structure, will start to appear in June.
That stage will see numbers on site rise from around a daily number of between five and eight to around 20 workers, something Mr Bradley says extra measures are already in place for.
"Fortunately almost all of the work is outdoors, and in a vast rural setting. All workers coming to the site will be screened and health checked before they can start, and all inductions will be completed outdoors before they start work," he said.
"Everybody will be required to travel to and from site alone, with no vehicle sharing, an added expense however one which allows social distancing to be maintained.
"Of course, when on site everybody will still be required to follow social distancing guidelines as currently advised by the Government, and should anybody have any symptoms they will not be allowed to site and will have to self-isolate.
"At times like this you have to innovate and actually, in terms of protecting the health of people, the construction industry is one of the best placed to do so as it is something which is at the very top of the priority list each and every day in an ever changing environment.
"The reality is we are talking about a multi-million pound development here which will ensure we have the highest quality British-grown food available next year, something our leading brand supermarkets and local distributors have been desperate to see, perhaps even more so given the current situation."
The new Beeswax Dyson Farming facility is set to be the first of its kind for its size, complexity, sophistication and green credentials in the UK horticulture market.
The glasshouse will include energy-saving and light pollution screens to save heat for use at night and to provide shade in the day, leading LED lighting systems and flowering lamps to aid winter production and maximise flower growth and fruit and self-sufficient water systems from rain-water harvesting across the site
Heat generated from the current onsite anaerobic digester biogas plant, where maize and rye silage is converted into energy, stored and used as and when required in the glasshouse enabling major energy savings.
Biogas will also be extracted, cleaned and converted into C02, to be used to enhance the growing environment and improve crop yields inside the glasshouse.
Methane gas, which is already created by the anaerobic digestion process, will be used to create electricity to power the glasshouse - and power over 7,700 homes - through a specially built Combined Heat & Power (CHP) system.
The site will even be self-sufficient in terms of water usage, with the entire site harvesting rainfall to be reused in irrigation systems.
As well as the glasshouse, CambridgeHOK is constructing a 1,500sq metre packing and cold store facility, where strawberries will be housed and made ready for collection and delivery, as well as a portal frame building which will house office staff, kitchens, and restrooms.