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Freeks Farm, Burgess Hill by Sanctus​

Shortlisted for Brownfield Awards Category 3 - Best Industry Innovation / Adaptation to Covid 19

Redefining safe working within a global pandemic

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Background 

It is without doubt that we are in the midst of a national housing crisis, with an ever-expanding population the demand  for affordable and sustainable housing are at an all-time high. As the governments development accelerator, Homes  England are tasked with releasing large-scale strategic developments as catalysts for change.  

One of their most important strategic schemes is the £150 million Northern Arc project, in Mid Sussex, which seeks to  provide 3,500 new homes on the 200-hectare site over the next 10 years, with 20 percent of these being affordable  homes. 

Ken Glendinning, head of strategic land at Homes England, said: “Burgess Hill is a great example of how we’re unlocking  complex stalled sites to build more homes more quickly where they are most needed.” 

The key to releasing the development potential of the wider area was focused on the former Freaks Farm, a 200-hectare  former tenant farm locked in complex legal dispute, home to a unique combination of biological contamination, industrial waste, and a wide array of protected species and sensitive ecological receptors.

Such a complex environmental contracting challenge meant that the partnership of AECOM and Sanctus was the only  sensible choice in delivering every aspect of ecological works, site clearance, demolition, remediation and enabling  works ahead of key infrastructure development.  

No-one could have known that works on site would align exactly with the onset of a global pandemic that would redefine  much of what we all knew about living and working. For our incredible team working at Burgess Hill, this meant  redefining environmental contracting and safe ways of working in order to ensure the continued delivery of this  multimillion pound scheme. 

As a result of our rapid adaptation, the teams professionalism, and expertise not a single day was lost on site, the  programme was delivered ahead of schedule and not a single person became unwell all whilst redefining environmental  contracting in the time of COVID.  

The Site  

Freeks Farm was a mixed-use semi working farm, with a history of being used for livestock and arable farming. Years of neglect by the previous landowners had culminated in a mass of unregulated, problematic waste, concentrated  around ecologically sensitive woodland at the northern boundary of the site and the derelict farmhouse to the south.  End of life vehicles, livestock carcasses including those impacted by foot and mouth disease and anthrax, import of  costly hazardous waste including asbestos and widespread abandonment of general black bag household and human  waste were present across the site. 

The volume and complexity of unregulated waste challenged the development and required specialist waste  management protocols and the highest levels of PPE / RPE and associated controls that only a remediation and  contamination specialist could provide.  

The clearance was constrained by overhead high voltage United Kingdom Power Network (UKPN) cables within the  northern area of site. Control measures had to be put in place in compliance with the Construction Design Management  Regulations working around overhead power lines and continuous liaison with UKPN was required.  

Sanctus Works 

Sanctus were appointed by AECOM and Homes England in March 2020 to return a site safe for infrastructure works to  commence. The enabling works package comprised full site clearance, demolition of the existing buildings, waste  segregation of all materials found across site, the discovery, testing and correct disposal of animal remains and  carcasses, and the remediation of impacted soils.  

Throughout the planning stages Sanctus were made aware of the various complications / sensitivities on site, which  could pose risk to the programme of works. These included heightened ecological receptors (as the site was positioned  in proximity to a local nature reserve), tree protection areas designated by an independent arboriculturist, the  development itself being contested and resented by local residents and frequent aggressive incursions from former  tenants as a result of legal grievances.

COVID 19 

After only two weeks on site, having completed all site set up activities, on March 23rd 2020 the country entered its first official lockdown due to the highly contagious Corona Virus (Covid-19). Overnight, we immediately heard from our client that the Secretary of State asked that work on this nationally significant infrastructure projects continue and keen to demonstrate our commitment to do our part we set about adapting our ways of working while other projects within the construction industry came to a halt. 

In the absence of any existing guidance from the Health and Safety  

Executive or Construction Leadership Council, we set about the  

process of defining what it means to work safely within a pandemic. We implemented changes across our site and logistical work including adaptations to accommodation, welfare facilities, travel and sequences, hygiene improvements (hand washing, cleaning regimes, welfare facilities), controls (forming bubbles, limiting site access, enhanced social distancing), Expanded PPE (the wearing of PPE throughout including extended use of RPE across the site), Emotional Support (informal consulting and enhanced emotional support for people and their families). 

Logistical Adaptations 

Sanctus’ procurement team worked tirelessly to find numerous self-contained accommodation units to ensure  individuals could self-isolate when away from site. Individuals travelled separately to and from site and additional  welfare facilities were immediately provided to site to ensure social distance could be conducted across every aspect  of contracting works. 

Additional facilities were supported by military level precision in sequencing to keep both distance and time spacing  between individuals across the site, from arriving and leading site, using facilities, and taking breaks.

Hygiene Improvements 

Additional supplies of antibacterial handwash reached site to support additional welfare facilities, when facilities were  scheduled to be empty and absent, they were deep cleaned with antibacterial products and an exemplary level of hygiene  policed by everyone involved.  

Additional Controls 

Site controls were heighted with no additional team members allowed in or out of site, no changes to the team meant  that site became its only socially distance bubble.  

Social distance controls were extended beyond the 2 m limit unless this could not be avoided for safety or required to  facilitate works, such as, logistical reasons and if this was required. RPE was to be warn throughout that period and full  decontamination to occur immediately after that specific task was completed. 

Expanded PPE 

As a result of the industrial and biological risk presented by the site Sanctus had of course invested in the very best PPE and RPE. The use of this was extended beyond specified areas to include anywhere an individual would be within 2m of another person.  

This was hugely challenging in the height of summer with exposure to sun and heat therefore we invested in additional sunscreen supplies and regular staggered breaks.  

Emotional Support 

In the face of the pandemic and the ensuing uncertainty, panic,  

and chaos our amazing site team stayed away from their family and friends to ensure this hugely important project progressed,  

taking its tole emotionally for us all. Directors were made  

available 24/7 to the entire team supported by our professional  

mental health support service to provide the support, guidance and reassurance required. This support was extended to the families of our team.

This approach proved hugely successful allowing for the programme to be delivered ahead of time and without a single  case of COVID being recorded or any person becoming unwell. This learning was regularly shared by our HSE Manager  with the Construction Council and we understand this feedback help inform the COVID guidance and best practise which  helped so many companies return to work safely in the following weeks and months. 

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The Delivery Programme 

Under the additional ways of working outlined above Sanctus address the following environmental contracting works  ahead of programme, at cost and quality to successfully ensure the planned handover the next set of specialist  contracts.  

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Ecology 

Phased ecological surveys identified four protected species on site which could impact the progression and delivery of the works. Great crested newts (Triturus cristatus), bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) were all identified on site, requiring specialist mitigations throughout the  

Sanctus works.  

Surveys indicated that the site was bound by Himalayan Balsam  

(Impatiens glandulifera), a Non-Native Invasive Species. Works were being undertaken throughout the nesting bird season. Sanctus were able to programme works around these discoveries avoiding delays. 

As a result of these sensitivities Sanctus were required to progress  

works around site under specific licenses granted by Natural England and an ecological watching brief. The areas where these species were suspected to inhabit and burrow, were declared as species designated areas. In the case of Freeks Farm, the dormice designated areas were limited, with works being carried out above ground level before April and below ground level works after May, 

while vegetation and tree removal had to be done prior to April to prevent nesting birds affecting the removal and  therefore, the overall project.  

Every aspect of these works was complicated and interrelated that vegetation clearance work had to be conducted  under both full tree work PPE and also complete asbestos / biological RPE. 

Demolition 

To facilitate the development existing buildings had to be demolished following their condemning by the Client. The  main building, the former occupant’s farmhouse, was the main focus of the demolition. This delipidated and harrowing  building comprised of a rotten wooden structure with large open drops across the floor, clearly forcible abandoned and  with widespread human waste and decreased animals remains present within the building itself.  

Bat nesting features on the farmhouse were identified by the onsite Ecologist. To allow for the demolition to continue  all works had to be undertaken with an accompanying watching brief. During the works a common Pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) was identified. Sanctus followed its procedure detailed within the site-specific risk assessment,  

making the area safe and arranging for an independent licensed ecologist to remove the bat. Sanctus’ rapid response to the identified bat meant there was no significant impact to the demolition programme or project  

costs and most importantly no wildlife was hurt through the process.  

The controlled demolition and segregation at source allowed for the materials to be processed efficiently into individual waste streams, allowing greater proportions of materials to be sent for offsite recycling at an appropriate facility, improving the estimates provided from original demolition surveys and reducing the carbon footprint of  

the scheme.  

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Asbestos 

Sanctus identified and confirmed widespread asbestos contamination on site with stacks of illegally imported cement bonded sheeting strewn across the former farm, as well at asbestos containing materials  present in all buildings and buried in several informal borrow pits in close proximity to the farmhouse.  

Sanctus developed a bespoke onsite treatment facility to remove the asbestos containing materials (including  fragments) allowing much needed material to be kept onsite in line with the site-specific risk assessment. This  approach significantly reduced the environmental and financial impact associated with offsite disposal, providing a  saving of nearly £300,000 compared to direct disposal. 

As one of the country’s leading asbestos remediation contractors Sanctus undertook the works in accordance with our uniquely placed 3 Year Unconditional License to undertake works with Asbestos, as issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  

Sanctus deployed a bespoke mobile point source suppression system capable of targeting specific work tasks using minimal water. Proprietary  

motofog MFJ10-MINI units were used for localised dust suppression in combination with manual knapsack sprayer style units for discrete locations.  

Sanctus staff and approved supply chain machine operators (embracing our principles of  supporting local plant and labour where possible), utilised full Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protective Equipment including Category 3 (Blue-Type) 5/6 particle tight coveralls and orinasal respirators (BS-EN-140) during investigation works.

Biological Clearance  

The presence of animal remains, and carcasses strewn across the site posed significant human health risks to not only the Sanctus staff but any future  workers and users. Biological testing was undertaken on visible remains to test for Anthrax and Foot and Mouth as well  as other biological risks. To control the risk posed by the remains present, bespoke bio-security controls were utilised with site specific risk assessments and method statements, based on the current industry best practice. Sanctus  implemented strict decontamination and management procedures on site, utilising anti-viral and bacterial boot dips.  

Information provided by former workers on site identified an illegal burial site of suspected CJD infected cattle in an  artificial pond formed in a depression within the wider site. This required sensitive investigation to drain the pond area  to allow access, sort through the debris and detritus, cataloguing finds whilst protecting visiting wildlife and everyone  associated with the works.  

All operatives were issued re-useable FFP3 rated respirators with bio secure specific filter packs (ABEK filters for gas  and vapour protection) which also removed the impact of foul odours encountered and preventing the inhalation of  airborne pathogens.  

Scheme Summary  

The development of complex sites to accommodate the increasing demand for housing is becoming more and more  frequent within the construction industry. The ability of a specialist remediation contractor to remove all adverse human  health and financial risks associated with complex sites is more important than ever. As one of the countries leading  remediation and contamination specialists Sanctus were able to demonstrate their unique expertise to deliver the  enabling and clearance works in partnership with AECOM for Homes England.  

Sanctus’s adaptability and outstanding work ethic allowed the project to continue, while the majority of construction  projects halted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unique control measures developed by Sanctus were  fundamental in shaping the response to the virus within the construction industry while the dedicated work of the  procurement and logistical team ensured all Sanctus personal could continue to work on site. The result of rapid adaptation, professionalism, and expertise meant not a single day was lost on site, the programme was delivered ahead  of schedule and not a single person became unwell all whilst redefining environmental contracting in the time of COVID.

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Biological Clearance