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Second chance for Felindre

This month engineers at Gibb Wales have started to manage an intensive investigation into the quality of the ground at the old Felindre tin plate works near Swansea. The intention is to clean up the site and create the sort of attractive plot that no industrial developer will be able to resist.

Client for the reclamation, the City and County of Swansea, has brought up a couple of farms and is parcelling them up with 68ha Felindre works to create an 80ha site which it hopes to let to one major company.

But first the land at the tin plate works, which was demolished and levelled three years ago, needs to have the oils, acids and heavy metals that contaminate it either removed or placed in specially engineered bunds. And a strategy has to be established to preserve the surrounding ecology, with three families of badgers and the fritillery butterfly the main prioriites.

The British Steel Felindre plant closed down in 1989, and in its heyday employed 2,000 people. The local council which bought the site, and funding agent the Welsh Development Authority, are keen to recreate as many of those jobs as possible.

The location does have some strong selling points that investors will appreciate. It is industrial land, only 7km north of Swansea which would provide a large pool of potential employees. The M4 skirts the south of the site, and a bid is already in for Challenge Funding to build a new access road and interchange to connect Felindre direct with the motorway, according to Swansea project co-ordinator Peter Davies. While for those taking note of the government's enthusiasm for alternatives to road transport, it would be no great problem to re-establish a rail link to the operational branch railway which also runs past the site.

When contractor Davies Middleton & Davies demolished the Felindre factory it took away 150,000m2 of production facilities and foundations to a depth of 1.5m below ground floor level. The vast basements with a volume of 220,000m3 were backfilled with crushed, clean concrete from the demolition. And approximately 50,000t of scrap ferrous and non-ferrous metals were recovered and recycled which more than paid for the cost of the works. In fact, at the end of the day, DMD gave the council £200,000.

Gibb had carried out a preliminary ground investigation prior to the demolition, digging 37 trial pits and sinking 31 shell and auger boreholes. 'The site is not grossly contaminated,' says Gibb project manager Rob Hamer. 'Though during demolition an area of 5,400m3 of soil which was contaminated with hydrocarbons was taken away to a licensed tip.'

Otherwise, he says, there is a lot of copper in the ground - from slag fill which was imported when the factory was built. There are also some spilled acids, and heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead at the head of the old railway sidings.

'Waste products were also tipped on a landfill tip and there is evidence of methane and leachates in the ground water,' he adds.

'The initial investigation indicated the contaminant range. The follow up will better define the geography of the contaminants and help plan the reclamation works,' says Gibb Wales regional manager Fred Williams.

'We have specified limits for the contaminants - from the safe minimum which can be left in place, to a medium level which needs to be placed in controlled tips on site, to the higher level which needs to be removed.'

Earthmoving starts in May and will include creating landscape bunds which double as tips, lined with a capillary break to prevent groundwater pollution. Swansea's Davies is expecting 150,000m3 of spoil to be moved raising the ground level from 0.5m to 2.5m above the Felindre foundations to simplify construction of new facilities.

The earthmoving will also allow the creation of attenuation ponds to hold floodwater from the site and these ponds can help enhance the visual appeal of the area. The ponds will form habitats for local wildlife and provide water features for any future development.

Ecology issues are very important in the reclamation planning. The fritillery butterfly's habitat in fields to the north of the site will be preserved.

Three families of badgers have also made their home in the wider Felindre redevelopment area and any potential project has to be planned around this protected animal. 'South Wales is packed with badgers and relocation is not an option,' says Williams. So Gibb's environmentalists have been leaving dyed food out for the badgers - with a different colour dye for each family - so their territories can be mapped from their brightly coloured droppings. And there are plans to plant alternative menus of dog rose and brambles in case the badgers' favourite berry bushes need to be dug up.

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