Northern Gas Networks’ removal of a subterranean gas holder is highly praised by the Scheme

Taking 26 weeks to complete, the work began with the holder tank being disconnected from the surrounding gas transmission network. It was then decommissioned and purged to ensure any residual methane gas was removed.

Despite the site’s remote location on an industrial estate in Ayres Quay, the project team forged supportive and close working relationships with local schools and businesses.

Outlining these positive community links, Project Manager Mark Johnson said:

“Our site was relatively isolated at the end of a long cul-de-sac access lane, with only a handful of businesses nearby – namely a bus depot, two pubs and a scrap yard. Due to the location, it was challenging to communicate about our works. However, we saw this as an opportunity to promote the project to other neighbouring organisations.

“In order to ensure our neighbours were notified and kept informed of our works, we sent 50 letters and leaflets to the surrounding businesses and maintained regular communication. We also held a community drop-in event to give people the opportunity to come along and talk to us and share feedback, as well as issuing questionnaires.”

At the start of each project, NGN carries out a detailed design and planning exercise which considers the site set up and facilities available throughout each phase of the works. The project manager then carries out extensive research to understand what ‘good’ looks like.

This research provided the team with a foundation to build a blueprint of how the Ayres Quay site should be set up. The team also established their own innovation think-tank with the aim of identifying new ways of working that had not been tested before.

Explaining how meaningful links were made with the local school, Mark said:

“Communicating with the local school was initially going to be difficult as the work was planned to take place during the school summer holidays. However, with advance planning, we invited a class from the local primary school to our nearby depot at Hendon before the end of the summer term. This gave us the opportunity to speak to 30 children about what NGN does and how it does it, as part of their career inspiration studies.

“In addition to promoting careers in construction we also used this opportunity to deliver a maths and history session where the children learnt about the iconic gas holder structures, followed by an art class with our local community artist where the children made a mural inspired by our gas holder.”

Here are some examples of best practice initiatives carried out by the Northern Gas Networks project team:

  • Access was through one gate which was always secured and controlled by a full-time gateman. The access gate was well signed with a Community Notice Board, Environmental Figures Board, notice of NGN job vacancies, site progress information, access particulars, large CCS and NGN banners and 24/7 contact details.
  • The admin section was positioned on a stoned area and consisted of quality cabins, a site car park with a reverse parking rule and a well-protected pedestrian access.
  • One-way traffic flow to the segregated work area was implemented and this was backed up with specific route access/egress directions to avoid heavy site traffic passing on the narrow highway.
  • Road sweeping was on the Project Manager’s personal call-out, as needed, and a robust wheel/boot wash was supplied by collected rainwater, using a drill pump.
  • NGN supplied liveried PPE and uniforms for staff and insist on contractors using their livery.
  • Some striking examples of the ‘actions’ included ‘Community Surgery’ before the start of the project, with regular update letters sent to neighbours, Community Notice Boards at the site entrance, and information on progress, achievements and possible problems.
  • Translator apps were used on phones and the 90:60 Complaints Performance System was used, aimed at resolving 90% of complaints in 60 minutes.
  • NGN employed dedicated stakeholder managers and customer care officers who arranged community events and supported charities , such as securing a signed Sunderland FC shirt for the raffle draw.
  • Regular open days were held on site to outline operations and community activity.
  • All staff were encouraged to utilise local businesses and complimentary membership was arranged at the local gym.
  • The NGN artist in residence worked with local groups to make murals as a permanent reminder of the works.
  • Northern Gas Networks used specialist machinery to dismantle the tank structure and recycled scrap metal before using recycled spoil to fill the void left by the tank structure to ground level. The site was then graded and any ancillary equipment associated with the gas storage tank was removed.
  • Environmental policy is made site specific and was fully covered at ‘Stop Take a Minute’ briefings at inductions and in toolbox talks and included the thorough monitoring of water and energy use and carbon footprints against KPIs.
  • Contaminated waste was segregated and disposed of in a responsible manner and achieved compliance with EA registration as a Waste Carrier and the Trade Effluent Discharge licence from Northumbrian Water.
  • All gasholder steel was recycled, the masonry base was left in position and all recycled materials were used to fill the void.
  • Good cabins with push taps and light movement sensors were used to conserve water and energy.
  • The site had an array of noticeboards covering energy figures, car sharing, energy saving, recycling and environmental targets. The noticeboards were kept strictly up to date to keep interest going.  
  • Meticulous detail was shown with regard to safety with NGN’s OHSAS 18001 approved safety systems, which are comprehensive, well worked out and constantly evolving. They are also regularly backed up with regular audits by the site manager and dedicated environment and health and safety team. The subcontractor’s health and safety auditors also inspect and comment.
  • The site deliberately ‘takes time to make time’ for Method Statements to be evaluated and alternative safety strategies researched. After this procedure, if any single aspect of the safety plan is absent, then work will not start.
  • All accidents, incidents and near misses were reported for routine analysis under the ‘constant improvement’ corporate safety policy. There was also a site suggestion scheme and daily team briefings to coordinate deliveries, to keep issues in focus, and to cope with change through staff and visitor inductions.
  • There were also daily ‘Stop – Take a Minute’ sessions, a strong open door policy backed by regular task-related toolbox talks and the constant feedback of safety performance through the well-maintained site noticeboards which are now all a ‘normal’ part of working practice. 
  • A new QR code poster was devised so that the satellite navigation route to hospital could be downloaded onto smartphones.
  • The annual STC (Safety Technical Competence) training reviews were designed to be a confidence-building two-way process.
  • NGN has a dedicated Training Academy for its staff and employs peripatetic regional coaches who visit sites.
  • Close attention was paid to trainees (NGN or contractors) who are poorly managed, with mentors appointed and regular checks on their progress and wellbeing.
  • NGN also makes a big effort in relation to industry recruitment, with stakeholder engagement events all over the network. It was also involved in ‘Play Safe’ and ‘Crucial Crew’ school events on site safety and mock job interviews for school leavers.
  • Contact telephone numbers for the Construction Industry Helpline and the Care First counselling service were displayed for the workforce. 

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