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Dutch connection

Products imported from the Netherlands are saving time and boosting safety on a major Welsh highways scheme. NCE reports on Dutch supplier Kijlstra’s dogged battle to become accepted by the British construction industry.

Surface water drainage is not the most visible element of a new road scheme - after all, it’s almost entirely underground. But it is vitally important to any road and it’s one of the first priorities before work starts on the carriageway.

On the £59M Harbour Way project, the final phase of Neath Port Talbot (NPT) County Borough Council’s Peripheral Distribution Road (PDR) scheme, the drains are required to do more than simply direct surface run-off into the nearest water course. As with all projects today, the system is designed to provide attenuation in the event of heavy rainfall to prevent flooding and overloading the local water courses.

High capacity attenuation

For this 4.5km long stretch of dual carriageway linking the M4 motorway to Port Talbot and the docks, a high-capacity attenuation system, extending for about 2km of the road’s length has been installed using precast manholes and special concrete pipes supplied by Dutch precast manufacturer Kijlstra.

“We chose to use this system on all the attenuation drainage. Health and safety was the big issue here”

John Skentelbery, Costain

Compared with the traditional method of on-site construction using a combination of precast rings and in-situ concrete, prefabricated concrete elements are a novelty. They are designed to be lifted straight into the excavation and mated with the pipe connections with virtually no manual labour beyond that needed to align the units.

And although commonly used for the past two decades in Kijlstra’s native Netherlands, they are only now becoming a familiar sight in the UK.

But in an industry renowned for its dogged adherence to the “tried-and-tested”, Kijlstra has had to work hard to sell the concept of prefabricated manholes, headwalls and associated products to British contractors and engineers.

For a start its manholes are square, not round - a concept quite alien within these shores.

Previous success

The decision to award Kijlstra the £1M million contract to supply precast manholes and pipes on the Harbour Way project followed their successful deployment on another site of main contractor Costain in South Wales - the £90M Church Village Bypass near Pontypridd, completed two months ahead of schedule in September 2010.

Kijlstra won the Church Village contract only after sales engineer Wieger Faber challenged the construction team to dig two holes and install Kijlstra manholes in one and a conventional manhole in the other. “Ours was installed and backfilled before they’d even started to pour the concrete base for the traditional manhole,” says Faber. “After that, the project manager just said ‘all right, we’re using the Kijlstra manhole’.”

Instant convert

Specialist contractor Flowline Civil Engineering, which worked with Kijlstra and Costain on the Church Village Bypass, was an instant convert to the prefabricated manhole concept. So when Flowline joined Costain on the Port Talbot project, the company pushed hard to get the traditional drainage design changed in favour of the Kijlstra product

“Kijlstra wasn’t specified on this project,” says Costain project manager John Skentelbery. “The client had specified traditional manhole rings. But we had used Kijlstra on Church Village and Flowline had praised the system.”

“We would expect to put an engineer on this job. It’s expensive, but the benefits for everybody involved are huge”

Wieger Faber, Kijlstra

Skentelbery had no personal experience with ­Kijlstra, not having worked on the Church Village Bypass, but he was soon convinced of the system’s benefits.

“We chose to use this system on all the attenuation drainage. Health and safety was the big issue here. Flowline was working in made ground with a high level of industrial contamination and a high water table. Anything that could minimise the need to work in the trench had to be worthwhile,” he says.

Precast manholes

On this project, Kijlstra’s precast manholes were used, together with 1.95km of 1,500mm diameter precast pipe sections. And, although nationally standard products, both manholes and pipes were tailored to the client’s precise requirements in a process Kijlstra calls “customised mass production”.

“The pipes were slightly modified in that they were the standard profile with a special low flow channel moulded into the base,” explains Faber. The manholes were also cast with a bespoke bench profile to provide the low flow channel.

Advance design development

This was only possible because Kijlstra was involved in the design development well in advance of work starting on site. “Our role was to optimise the design and look for cost savings,” explains Faber, who spent three days a week on site during the three weeks prior to work starting.

Faber was the link between the project and the factory, finalising designs, ordering manufacture and coordinating the delivery to site. This enabled the site team of client, main contractor, subcontractor and supplier, to value engineer the drainage design, eliminating a number of manholes from the original design, making savings in the region of £20,000.

Prefab advanages

While site safety and ease of installation were the main reasons Flowline pushed for the prefabricated drainage option, speed of installation was a major advantage, as well as inherent cost benefits, says Flowline managing director Keith Snape. “We knocked about two weeks off the programme,” he says.

Faber’s ongoing involvement with the project means that he has been visiting the site once or twice a week since work began.

And this is not unusual on a job of this size, he says: “We would expect to put an engineer on this job. It’s expensive, but the benefits for everybody involved are huge.

“All our sales people are engineers; they don’t just drop a brochure on the table - they get involved. And the earlier we get involved with a project, the better.”

Value engineering


Kijlstra’s early involvement is not unique on the Harbour View project. Even before the main contract had been awarded the client, NPT, had worked closely with Costain and its supply chain in an early contractor involvement phase to cut the tender price by almost a fifth.

“Costain was first awarded a professional services contract in advance of the main contract. The works contract itself was to be awarded subject to funding being available and the project meeting budgetary constraints,” explains NPT project manager Rhys Griffith, adding that the first contract was awarded with a public inquiry pending.

The route was already decided and the scheme was well developed, yet value engineering cost reductions to the tune of £15M ensured the project went ahead.
To achieve these the team had to look at the whole scheme again in order to find opportunities for cost reduction.

As well as rethinking the drainage, other cost saving solutions included the use of reinforced earth in place of the piled foundations originally specified.


Project details

Harbour Way is the largest transport project in Wales since the completion of the M4 motorway in 1993. 

It will provide a 4.5km link to the M4 at Junction 38 at Margam to enable economic regeneration of the area and improve access to west Wales. It will also improve access to Tata Steel and the port, as well as easing local congestion on the M4 and provide a high quality gateway to the town centre and enable environmental improvements on the A48
The project’s £107M funding is made up of £56.2M from the Convergence European Regional Development Fund and £50.7M transport grant from the Welsh Government. Costain’s construction contract is £59M.
Work on the pre-earthwork drainage system began in March and will be completed next month. The road is due to open in the autumn of 2013.

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