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How green was my coastline Llanelli in South Wales is the scene of an attempt to put the much talked about concept of sustainability into practice. Andrew Mylius reports.

MILLENNIUM PROJECTS

Standing atop a newly hydroseeded earth embankment in the teeth of an icy gale, Mike Hogan squints across an expanse of sand and steely sea towards South Wales's picturesque Gower Peninsula.

'We're aiming to make the coastline here just as attractive to holidaymakers as it is over there,' he shouts.

Hogan is contracts manager for Llanelli's Millennium Coastal Park, a £27.5M rehabilitation project that is clawing back 22km of coastline from dereliction.

Until a decade ago a Royal Ordnance TNT factory, steel mills and coal- fired power station drove the local economy and dominated the shore. Hogan, who grew up in Llanelli, says that until the coastal park venture got under way local people had no access to the beach.

Even if they had, it was a pretty uninviting place to be. Transforming the ravaged seaside into a place people want to visit has involved removal of concrete structures from the ground, extensive decontamination, landscaping, coastal protection works and planting.

With regeneration expert Land Use Consultants, Carmarthenshire County Council drew up plans for the Millennium Coastal Park in 1995. The Welsh Development Agency and Welsh Water lent financial backing, and the scheme received matching funding from the Millennium Commission in 1996.

The project includes creation of a bird sanctuary and salt marshes and incorporation of an existing nature reserve. A large outdoor arena will stage next year's festival of Welshness, the Eisteddfod.

Golfers are getting a pristine Jack Niklaus fairway. A boating lagoon is being created by modifying Llanelli's defunct North Dock; an impounding wall will keep water levels constant. A second, working harbour, Burry Port, is being dredged. Two land bridges have been constructed across rail track running along the coast, making broad, grassy connections to the beach.

And Llanelli's coastline has been linked into the UK's National Cycle Network, which aims to provide 4,800km of traffic free and traffic calmed cycle routes throughout the UK by June 2000.

Land Use Consultants and Carmarthenshire County Council carried out limited site investigation when the scheme was submitted for millennium funding. But it was clear the site contained unforeseen challenges, so consultants for the 11 packages carried out their own investigations.

Midway along the park's snaking length, where the power station once stood on the site of the Eisteddfod field, consultant Ove Arup and contractor Alfred McAlpine encountered heavily reinforced concrete foundations. These were excavated, crushed and graded for use as fill on other contracts. 'Reuse of materials has been one of the major thrusts of this project,' says Hogan.

Huge volumes of pulverised fuel ash from the power station had been dumped on the site. This was reclaimed to build up embankments for and provide natural cover for the two land bridges, for which Arup was also responsible. 'We needed a lightweight engineering fill, and the obvious source was PFA from the site,' recalls Hogan. More than 700t was moved.

Investigation of the Eisteddfod site revealed large deposits of asbestos. Llanelli's park was meant to be 'sustainable' and the client strongly felt that removing the asbestos to landfill was simply transferring the problem elsewhere. After discussion with the Environment Agency, the asbestos was capped with a 300mm-500mm layer of silt and sand from other parts of the site.

Arup and the Quality Ash Association joined forces to study the properties of PFA. They discovered that by adding digested sewage sludge from a nearby treatment plant, the ash could be made an excellent medium for growing trees and shrubs. And insitu mixing in of lime and cement gave the PFA the necessary bearing qualities for creation of the park's network of paths.

Capping has also been used on other parts of the site. Heavy industry left a legacy of arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, copper and zinc exceeding Interdepartmental Committee on the Redevelopment of Contaminated Land trigger levels.

'We told our consultants we wanted a realistic approach to contamination rather than a zero tolerance solution,' Hogan says.

To prevent capillary action bringing contaminants to the surface, a rock capping layer was placed and then covered with clean soil from other areas in the park. He calculates that the extra costs of capping have been more than offset through careful use of resources on site.

Hogan and team drew up a report on the resources available on site to prevent any unnecessary importing or exporting of materials. Guidelines on the properties of materials, stability, planting, and responses to contamination were produced to help consultants working on different contracts achieve consistency across the park.

Hogan says that rigorous programme management was required to achieve economies in the sourcing and use of materials and to avoid double handling. The client coerced consultants and contractors to liaise with one another. Glitches in timing could have produced huge cost escalations, with one contractor sitting on tonnes of earth while another caught up.

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