GLASGOW CITY traders this week said they were considering suing Tarmac and Marks & Spencer for over £2.5M in lost earnings after a piling contract threatened to topple their 200 year old historic premises.
Thirty nine businesses were evacuated from the Virginia Galleries in central Glasgow last October. The City Council issued a dangerous buildings notice after piling work on the adjacent Marks & Spencer development caused nearly 15mm of vertical movement in a gable wall.
Foundation work on the £27M extension to M&S's Argyle Street store has been on hold while engineers decide how to stabilise the now empty shopping centre. Remedial work to Virginia Galleries could take up to seven months.
Piling subcontractor Abbey Pynford stopped work on the job in October just weeks into the work. Main contractor Tarmac subsequently commissioned consulting engineer Thorburn Colquhoun to produce an independent report on the incident.
The report's findings are disputed and it is understood that even Tarmac engineers doubt its accuracy. It is known to have already been returned to the consultant with comments and corrections, particularly those questioning the design and methodology of Tarmac's consultant WSP.
Abbey Pynford's managing director Paul Kiss insisted that the problems stemmed from a flawed site investigation.
Kiss explained: 'The information contained in the site investigation was unrepresentative and though it was adequate to allow us to design the piles it did not suggest the problems experienced in the ground during works. We are in the process of submitting a claim.'
He explained that very fine sandy ground conditions coupled with a high water table had made construction of a contiguous pile wall about 1m from the Virginia Galleries gable very difficult. Piles were eventually shortened from 13m to 7m to avoid going below the water table.
But traders claim that the Galleries should have been underpinned first. Project insiders maintain, however, that WSP had to avoid this option because access was denied by the owners of the Virginia Galleries.
A WSP spokeswoman said: 'We are looking at the matter in detail but we are not aware of a claim at the present time.' Thorburn Colquhoun said it was unable to comment on the findings of its report.
A Tarmac spokesman said: 'We are close to finalising an agreement with the owner of the Virginia Galleries to gain access to carry out remedial works.'
Tarmac is understood to have already paid out £20,000 to refurbish new premises for the traders. But the traders rejected the new location despite M&S offering to finance a £15,000 advertising campaign, An M&S spokesman said: 'Marks & Spencer is very concerned about the traders losing their livelihood.'