IT must feel good to be part of a consortium which turns a sink council estate in Manchester, rife with crime, drugs and prostitution, into a place where people want to live. Paul Braithwaite talks to John Wilcox, north west regional manager for Powerminster, who has been responsible for the m&e contracting work on the site, and Paul Grogan, the site manager for Powerminster Propertycare, who will be responsible for maintenance.
GROVE Village, a sink council estate two miles from the centre of Manchester, is the first of eight Pathfinder Private Finance Initiative housing schemes and much of the work is coming to an end .
The village has received £99million of investment in refurbishment and new build housing through PFI. Some £40million of the funding comes from central government PFI credits, the remainder from private sector consortium Grove Village which has responsibility for the estate for the next 30 years.
Grove Village Limited is the name of the PFI Special Purpose Vehicle, a consortium of M J Gleeson (which has 49% of the equity), Harvest Housing Group, a housing association (25.5%) and Nationwide Building Society (25.5%).
John Wilson: waiting list for owner-occupier homes
Paul Grogan is site manager for Propertycare, the Powerminster division which has been maintaining the Grove Village Estate since its parent company, M J Gleeson, became responsible for the contract. His job will be to maintain the estate for 30 years after this phase of the work has been done. He will have on call five permanent multi-skilled Part P qualified engineers to help him.
Paul explains the difference between now and then.
'When we took over the maintenance work on the estate, we would send two engineers to each call after dusk - one to repair the system and the other to look after the vans, such was the level of crime on the estate,' he said. 'It was none-too-safe during the day either.'
'Five years ago, houses were nearly impossible to sell on the estate,' said John Wilcox, north west regional manager for m&e contractor Powerminster.
Now, he adds, there is a waiting list for the newly-built or newly-refurbished houses and they are selling for up to £150,000.
Grove Village was one of the country's most deprived inner city estates.
Most of the 1,200 housing units were low rise, two- and three-storey houses. Many were in a poor state of repair. About a third were unoccupied.
A disabled lift has been installed in what was the garage (but is now the downstairs room)...
Crime, in the form of drug dealing, and muggings was rife. There were even a couple of gangs operating from the estate.
Gleeson Building took on a three-year programme whereby it undertook to refurbish 663 homes and demolish 443 sub-standard dwellings, replacing them with 662 new properties for private sale.
'The project was designed to make this estate a better place to live,' says John simply. 'And design crime out.'
So how do you do that?
Walkways at the backs of the gardens have been taken away, the garden has been extended or shortened to put a road through. Other houses have been turned around so that street doors face the road.
'The infrastructure has been completely changed to make the whole estate more accessible. Rat-runs are out, replaced by roads which have opened up the estate. Specific green areas have been created.'
And it works, John says. 'Virtually all of the new build was sold off plan.'
There was not a lot wrong with the houses which were built in the 1970s. All they needed was some tender loving care.
...which takes the disabled person into the bedroom. A hoist helps her lift herself out of bed and into a wheelchair...
The refurbishment usually takes place over a week, with the family still in residence.
A crew of 10 work in each house. Two replace the warm air heating with a condensing boiler and radiators. (A specialist team has to remove the warm air ducting as there is an asbestos lining.)
Five electricians rewire the dwelling, two plasters make good where necessary, a tiler and one kitchen fitter complete the team.
Gleeson Regeneration workers then make good.
There are also external works such as rendering or painting. Some houses have had porches added. Owner occupiers can also have the same external changes for their homes.
The elderly and the disabled have been catered for specifically. For instance, elderly people have been moved nearer to the new community centre and special green areas have been created. Disabled people are given what they need. In one house I visited, a wheelchair lift (from the ground floor to the bedroom) had been installed and a hoist which will help a disabled person to get out of bed and into the wheelchair and then help move the wheelchair from the bed to a fully-tiled shower room and toilet.
Some 500 homes on the estate are connected to a district heating scheme. Three Remeha P500 boilers have replaced the original units. The old boilers, installed during the 1960s, were life-expired and increasingly inefficient.
...and propel herself across the room and into a purpose-built disabled bathroom/toilet
Powerminster had to decommission these boilers and install and commission new boilers in the same energy centre without interruption to the service.
'The real challenge for Powerminster was to install the system and modify the existing underground pipework with the tenants of the 500 homes which it serves remaining in residence,' says Paul.
'Our contract stated that no tenant was to be left without heat or hot water outside the planned shut-down periods,' he adds. 'We were working in the middle of a residential area, in and around people's homes and digging up the streets to get to the pipework.'
The existing plant provided for the needs of about 800 connected dwellings so it had a floor area capable of supporting energy generation for this greater demand. This gave Powerminster space to install one of the new boilers. In this way, the old system was decommissioned and the new system installed in phases starting just before Christmas 2004 and finishing in October 2005.
The existing underground pipework had been replaced only 10 years previously. The only complication here was that some of the pipes needed re-routing to new properties.
'We had to disconnect and re-route pipe runs to make way for new roads and buildings. This was done in small sections to avoid disruption to tenants.'
Pipework is a highly specialised pre-fabricated steel pipe with a high density polyethylene outer casing. There is a rigid foam insulating layer in between.
There were, of course, shutdowns. However, these were planned by Powerminster with the co-operation of other members of the team. There were roughly 15 shutdowns during the course of the contract, most of them timed to take place between the hours of 6.30am and 6pm when most tenants would be at work and demand for heating and hot water would be at its lowest. No shutdown lasted more than 12 hours.
Paul admits there was plenty of potential for delay, disruption and cost escalation. However, the partnering philosophy meant the early involvement of sub-contractors and suppliers, and these were invaluable in forestalling problems before they arose.
Paul insists the installation and commissioning of the district heating system went smoothly largely thanks to the close working relationship between Powerminster, its sub-contractors and contractor Gleeson Building.
A great deal of hard work also went into keeping the local community informed via the project's tenant liaison officer, Lucienne Callaghan, who ensured tenants' views were voiced and heeded.
Paul says the boilers are probably the most efficient boilers he has come across.
The price of the heating has just been raised, to 3.99 a therm.
More to the point, CO2 emissions are forecast to fall by more than 3,200 tonnes per year from about 5,000 tonnes to less than 2,000. Emissions of nitrous oxide will fall from 12 tonnes per year to about five tonnes and sulphur dioxide emissions will be reduced by 27 tonnes to one or two tonnes.
The boilers send out the hot water in a continuous loop. If householders want the heat or hot water they turn on the radiator tap or the water tap. Returned hot water is topped up, goes through the boiler again and is returned on the loop.
The energy centre is also equipped with modern pumping systems (speed-controlled on differential pressure to save energy), new pressurisation units, water treatment systems and new plant control systems.
A Trend building management outstation is installed to collect data relating to energy consumption, energy export and any malfunctions. This is also monitored at the Powerminster control centre at Sheffield.
And as well as cheap heating, the householder has no annual boiler maintenance charge.
The rebuilding is virtually at an end and those residents who have remained throughout the upheaval are more than happy about where they live.
As for Paul, he is hoping for a quiet life as the 30-year maintenance contract kicks in.
Some hopes, eh?