It’s that time of year again when everyone starts building up for Christmas and the chaos it brings. For most of us that involves saving as much money as we can and making quite frankly ridiculous amounts of lists – Christmas presents, cards, food supplies… drink supplies for getting over the stress of making sure the other three lists are complete. There’s nothing worse than someone coming over to visit you, present in hand only for you to realise that you forgot to add them to one of your lists.
(Hence the ’emergency’ gifts everyone keeps stashed in over Christmas in the hope that no one visits so that they get to eat those chocolates themselves!)
For all of us at Taylor Tuxford Associates, the build up to the festive season marks one of our busiest times as we gear up for our Christmas fundraising sessions alongside our usual workload.
For those that might not know, we are part of a fundraising group known as Blu Crew. The group was founded initially with the primary aim of raising money for Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, but has now branched out to help other local charities and fundraising groups. During December, Blu Crew’s primary fundraising efforts involve multiple sessions at various shopping areas around South Yorkshire singing carols and other Christmas songs.
We started our fundraising efforts last weekend by singing on Saturday at the Wickersley Christmas lights switch on and on Sunday at the Alhambra shopping centre, Barnsley.
(You’ll notice that Michelle managed to avoid being in the photo by claiming responsibility as photographer!)
We’ll be in action every weekend between now and the 16th December, so you can come and see some or even all of us at the following locations – you’ll know it’s us when you see Anne bopping along to the music!
Saturday 1st December: Crystal Peaks – indoor market area (10am – 4pm)
Sunday 2nd December: Ikea Sheffield (11am – 4pm)
Sunday 9th December: Crystal Peaks – Sainsburys (11am – 4pm)
Friday 14th December: Greenhill Lights switch on (5pm onwards)
Saturday 15th December: Crystal Peaks – indoor market area (10am – 4pm)
Sunday 16th December: The Alhambra, Barnsley (11am – 4pm)
Start/finish times are approximate, but we’ll be at those locations between those times, so come along and say hello… and be prepared for the folks with the collecting buckets!
I have just been reading an article in the July edition of “Building Engineer” – the monthly Journal of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE). I and all of our colleagues around the UK have for many years been proud of the range and breadth of topics covered by the Journal, which, in my opinion continues to punch above its weight.
One particular article caught my eye this month. It was penned by Jayne Hall, who is currently a Vice-President of the CABE and also a Past President of LABC, the national body for Local Authority Building Control in the UK. Jayne has recently also joined the Board of Trustees of the CABE Benevolent Fund, of which I am also proud to be a Trustee.
Jayne’s Journal article was explaining that the CABE Chief Executive Dr Gavin Dunn has asked her to take on the role of the CABE’s “Diversity Champion”. Jayne’s article reflects on the inalienable fact that the Construction Industry, even after years of effort, still has a poor record in regard to Equality and Diversity.
Jayne makes the observation, based on a recent professional conference in Somerset she had attended, that “…it was clear that the construction professions, and engineering in particular, are still dominated by the traditional white middle class male – also mostly well into middle age too…”
Okay, she just described me, but I do take Jayne’s point and I have to agree with her. During the six years that I sat on the Board of Directors of the CABE in the mid-2000s (at that stage it was still just called the ABE) there were typically about fifteen or so elected Directors and Honorary Officers, of whom I cannot recall there ever being more than three women elected to the Board at any one time. But to be fair, that merely reflected the proportion of women standing for election … though one can only wonder how much a lack of encouragement to our female members may have restricted the numbers willing to stick their head above the parapet?
Similarly, I regularly sit on interview panels assessing Candidates for admission to Chartered level Membership of the CABE and the ratio of male to female candidates in my experience, is well in excess of 10:1. And yet, two of the four most impressive Candidates I can recall interviewing over the past years have been female (take a bow Karen and Saira, you were both excellent). It has been suggested that women have to try harder to justify their place in the industry, which is truly a shame.
I chuckled at some of the examples Jayne quoted in her article though, of “reasons” (i.e. pitiful excuses) for the lack of women employed in high level positions, which apparently have ranged from “…the board room being an uncomfortable place for women…” to “…the issues discussed at board level are very complex…” Oh, deary me….
Now, the Taylor Tuxford Associates Board meetings typically cover a whole range of issues ranging through: technical difficulties regarding ongoing projects, to establishing our Corporate policy with regard to the General Data Protection Regulations, to where we’re going for the Christmas Party. My own experience has been that none of the issues arising at any of our Board meetings have caused any of my female colleagues to fall off their chairs with a bad case of “the vapours”… that only tends to happen when we run out of wine at the Christmas Party, and isn’t just restricted to my female colleagues!
For the record, I am pleased to say that three-quarters of the total number of employees and two-thirds of the construction-related technical team at Taylor Tuxford Associates are female and moreover, I am proud to have the opportunity to work with them.
Alright, so there are only four of us altogether and maybe, as Amy always says, you can prove anything you want to with statistics, but we honestly are trying our best in that regard and, like the CABE, we are punching above our weight when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace.
To finish on a serious note though, the construction industry still has an awfully long way to go in this regard. It is still a novelty to find a female on a construction site – whether in a supervisory or technical capacity or on the tools – and in part, this is likely related to the apparent tendency for blokes not to accept women co-workers as they would another bloke and the (understandable) reluctance of women not to want to expose themselves to the often-misogynistic attitudes of their male co-workers.
The place to make a start on addressing the diversity imbalance is in our Schools. Until such time as pupils in the advanced stages of preparing for their GCSEs are persuaded – irrespective of their gender, ethnic background or of any inherent disability – that Construction as a career will be a worthwhile thing to do, then we are still going to be having this discussion in a further 20 years’ time.
If there are any Schools out there in the South Yorkshire area that would like someone to come along and give a presentation to their pupils about a career in construction, we will be very happy to talk to you about that.
We are pleased to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists in the Local Authority Building Control, Building Excellence Awards 2018 for the South Yorkshire and Humber region.
The Building Excellence Awards celebrate projects, companies, partnerships and individuals within the construction industry. Each of the 12 LABC regions across England and Wales hold their own Building Excellence Awards, with awards being given across 12 separate categories. One overall winner from each region is then selected to represent that region in the national awards finals later in the year.
We have been shortlisted for our work on a semi-derelict farmhouse in the Rotherham area. The project involved partial restoration of the fabric of the original building along with careful extension of the structure, resulting in a spacious, 6-bedroom family home.
As the original structure dated back to around 1770, a key focus of the project was to retain the style of the original farmhouse whilst incorporating modern heating and insulation systems to allow for a contemporary interior to be designed.
We will be attending the LABC regional finals on the 18 May along with our Client at what is certain to be an enjoyable evening with stiff competition from our fellow building professionals.
As some people might know, but most probably don’t, my main PhD project centered around an emergence of pyrite-related damage in Ireland. More to the point, the project looked at the damage caused by the expansion of pyritic mudrocks used as fill below domestic floor slabs.
Pyrite (chemical formula FeS2) is formed in low-oxygen environments such as those found in deep sea conditions, where organic-rich, fine grained sediments such as mudstone form. Many minerals that form in such environments are not stable under normal atmospheric conditions and so, when these minerals are exposed to air and water, they change to a more stable form. In the case of pyrite, it oxidises.
This exposure to air and water occurs naturally at the rock face in outcrops, although it is limited to the outer surface of the rock material. However, when the material is, for example, quarried and processed and compacted at optimum moisture content into the foundations of a domestic property, the outer surface of each individual fragment of rock is exposed to both air and moisture.
Exposure to the air and water has minimal direct effect on the mudstone, what it does is begin the process of oxidising and breaking down the pyrite crystals. One of the products of the oxidation is sulphuric acid, which means that the moisture in the fill also becomes acidic.
For many engineers, the problem stops there; or rather it starts there. Acidic groundwater is a key factor in sulphate attack on concrete, indeed, pyritic rock has itself been known to contribute to sulphate attack on concrete. Sulphate attack happens when ions from the acidic groundwater migrate from into the concrete causing reactions within the concrete matrix.
This migration of ions causes expansion of the concrete as secondary minerals such as gypsum, ettringite and thaumasite start to form within the matrix. This causes cracking and breakdown of the surface of the concrete, as the expansion overcomes the concrete’s tensile strength, and reduces the overall strength of the concrete in those areas. In severe cases, it can reduce the strength of the matrix to such an extent that the material can be broken apart by hand.
It will, if left long enough, result in the surface of the concrete, potentially to tens of millimetres depth, turning to what can be referred to as “mush”. This is an “accurate technical term”, more or less, and is wonderfully descriptive for what the material looks like after sulphate attack has been at work.
Sulphate attack on concrete was discovered when investigating the partial collapse of Carsington Dam in 1984. In this case, pyritic mudstone had been used to form the outer shoulders of the dam and, in order to prevent standing water, limestone drainage layers were added into that mudstone.
Unfortunately these drainage layers allowed for increased movement of water through the material, which meant that the acidic groundwater had easy access to buried concrete structures that subsequently suffered sulphate attack. Other problems linked to the pyrite at this site included blockage of drains due to precipitation of minerals, such as gypsum, and acid water runoff that required treatment before it could enter the local water system.
However, sulphate attack on concrete is only rarely seen in the Irish pyrite cases. Indeed, there was only one case that I looked at as part of my research where sulphate attack was confirmed to have occurred. In that case both ettringite and thaumasite were found in the upper few millimetres of the concrete ground beams.
However, in the cases that were the focus of the research, there were no confirmed cases of sulphate attack on concrete.
The problem with these properties instead leads back to the mention above about the mudstone material being organic-rich. The majority of the organic matter in the mudstone comes from decomposed micro-organisms that are primarily made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Calcium carbonate reacts in the presence of acids to release carbon dioxide gas and calcium ions into solution. The calcium ions in turn react with the sulphate from the acid to form gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O).
The pyrite crystals found in the mudstone are generally on the scale of tens of microns in size. By contrast, the gypsum crystals can be around 100 times larger at a few millimetres in size. This means that the very process of replacing the pyrite with gypsum causes expansion of the material.
This expansion is increased by the way in which the gypsum preferentially precipitates along layers in the mudstone. This forces open these pre-existing lines, making the material expand and also allowing better access for air and moisture through the material, which furthers the reaction process.
As the mudstone is confined by the floor slab and the foundation walls, the expansion eventually reaches a point at which it exerts pressure on the underside of the floor slab and inside of the foundations. This in turn leads to upwards movement of the slab and, in some instances, outward movement of the foundation walls themselves.
The movement of the floor slab causes damage to the slab itself, as well as causing movement of and damage to structures sat on the floor slab. This includes movement of internal partition walls, and causes secondary effects such as doors not opening properly due to the uneven floor.
The amount of uplift often changes in amount across the floor slab in any given room, with humps often occurring towards the centre or one side of a given open space. Likewise, stellate cracking of the slab is common, although not always visible below fixed floor coverings such as tiles, although they may themselves show signs of cracking.
Shearing features are common where walls meet, especially where an internal stud partition (that has moved) meets an external wall (that has not moved). Cracks are also common around doors and in ceilings, occurring first along plasterboard seams and also at angles connecting seams with other features.
Much of this might sound familiar to an experienced engineer, several of the “features” of pyritic expansion are similar to those seen when settlement occurs at a property. Indeed, in several of the early pyrite cases the damage was assumed to be caused by foundation settlement and treated accordingly. It was only when damage reoccurred after repairs that other options were investigated.
Cases of pyritic heave damage in the UK are rare, however, they are not completely unheard of. There were a series of domestic properties in the Teesside area found to be affected in the 1970’s and a couple of isolated cases in Glamorgan in the 1980’s. The two cases in Glamorgan were related to pyritic bedrock rather than fill and so can be considered a little differently.
Still, materials containing pyrite can be common in the UK, from red ash colliery spoil which was used as fill, to mudrocks and shales formed as part of the Coal Measures.
Tests for sulphates can be carried out by most testing laboratories and samples can be obtained from simple trial pit or borehole methods. I know everyone expects the geotechnical engineer to say this, but proper site investigation is important; even a desk study looking at the geology and history of an area can highlight potential issues.
Any instance where these materials are exposed to air and water could result in the production of acidic groundwater, at which point the possibility of sulphate attack and gypsum production is a viable issue that should be considered in the design process.
All practising professional engineers, surveyors and architectural designers are required to undertake a certain amount of what is referred to as “Continuing Professional Development” or “CPD” for short. For example, as a Chartered Building Engineer and Fellow of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE), I am required to undertake a minimum of 35 hours per year of CPD.
Similar requirements are placed upon professionals in other disciplines / industries and the whole point is that one is expected to strive to maintain one’s knowledge of the latest developments and current thinking in the working environment. We would all hope that our Family Doctor will be up to speed on the latest methods of diagnosis and treatment of whatever ailments we may suffer from and the same applies in the construction industry.
CPD can take many forms. The importance of keeping abreast of the latest techniques for design and analysis are obvious, along with being aware of any recent legal cases – the judgements applied to which can impact particularly on how as an appointed Surveyor, one deals with for example, disputes under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
CPD can also include “horizon broadening activities” and the list here is as long as one cares to make it. As an example, our newest recruit Amy has been shadowing me on several site inspections lately. Although Amy is primarily a Geotechnical Engineer (translation – “a Geologist who has been drawn to the ‘dark side’ of Engineering”) the experience of seeing how others deal with boundary disputes, structural inspections and measurement surveys of buildings will be invaluable in improving not only her usefulness to the company but also, the breadth of her understanding of other elements of Building Engineering as they interface with her own, specialised areas of work.
I have the honour and pleasure to regularly sit on a panel of experienced professionals, interviewing prospective members of the CABE to determine that they have met the required standards of experience, knowledge and professionalism to be accepted as chartered members of the Association. One of the topics raised and discussed in the interview process is the candidate’s record of CPD attendance – not just in terms of the hours spent undergoing CPD, but also the quality of that CPD and its relevance to their work.
But, I honestly cannot remember ever being asked by a Client for details of my own CPD record at any stage during a project, let alone before they engage my services. Now, one might argue that the Client is entitled to take it for granted that, as a practising member of a professional organisation they will be on top of their obligations regarding CPD. It has been my experience that not all professionals take this as seriously as we would wish to believe.
For our Clients’ comfort and peace of mind, I can confirm that all of the technical staff at Taylor Tuxford Associates either meet or comfortably exceed the requirements of their professional bodies in terms of the hours of CPD they carry out each year.
I have just completed and submitted my CPD “return” for 2017 for 50 hours of CPD completed. Over the past three calendar years, my personal cumulative CPD attendances have been in excess of 190 hours in total. This includes some community work – for example, assisting local charitable organisations and groups with their construction-related issues and projects, including Bold Adventures in Bolsterstone and the Maltby Miners Memorial Trust, for whom we have been providing architectural and structural design assistance. We have also previously assisted on three projects locally for the BBCTV DIY SOS programme – it all helps.
Significantly, however, the CPD Hours that we register do not include time spent on other community work for non-construction related causes – primarily in our case, this would be the time that Michelle, Amy, Anne and me spend on fund raising activities for local and national charities through the entertainments group BluCrew – for details see elsewhere on our website on visit www.facebook.com/BluCrew/
Every month the Planning Portal (the online system through which all planning and building control applications are managed) sends out a newsletter covering new developments within the construction industry and any changes related to application processes and costs. It also covers news stories and opinion pieces, and as with any thing that involves someone’s opinion, sometimes you read it and go “huh”.
Sometimes it’s a good “huh” that means you’ve learned something new; sometimes it’s the kind of “huh” that is a precursor to you spending several minutes wondering how exactly someone thought that was a good idea. Anyone that has spent time on Twitter will be familiar with the second type of “huh”.
In the January newsletter there was an article piece describing how the Local Government Association (the LGA) was arguing that permitted development rights should be scrapped (link).
For context, the LGA is a membership organisation intended to represent the interests of local councils across England and Wales on a national governmental level.
Permitted development rights allow building owners to make certain changes and developments without going through the full planning application process. For homeowners this allows them to add small extensions or thing such as solar panels to their home without applying for planning permission (though building regulations are usually required).
The article from the Planning Portal does not explicitly discuss homeowners, although the absence of such a mention is important as I will cover below.
The article argues, correctly in my opinion, that there has been a certain amount of abuse of these permitted development rights by development companies. In particular in converting unused urban office spaces into apartments leading to a dramatic decrease in available office space and in some cases the formation of poor quality living accommodation that does not meet advised standards.
Similarly, the LGA makes the argument that the development of existing structures is being used to bypass affordable housing requirements by these same development companies. Although I cannot comment on the latter point, the development of poor quality accommodation benefits no one in the long term.
I think the intent of the article, and possibly also the statement by the LGA, was intended to say that permitted development rights should be scrapped solely for conversions such as these, but that is not communicated clearly. In fact, on a first read through, the impression I received from the article could be summed up by the first paragraph, which I quote in its entirety below.
“Permitted development rights rules are “detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.”
As a statement taken individually, and without further clarification currently available, this is more than a little concerning. With the recent increase in Planning Fees, the removal of permitted development rights across the board would make small extensions increasingly expensive for homeowners. When considering the effect of the actions of large companies, seemingly no consideration has been given to the effect of such a statement on individuals.
An across-the-board scrappage of permitted development rights just to limit conversions of office space to dwellings is overkill. In fact, because I promised to shoehorn the cliché in to this article, it can even be described as a distinct case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. This becomes even more pertinent when you consider that these rights for converting offices to dwellings without planning permission were temporary until as recently as October 2015.
Surely instead of removing all permitted development rights it would make sense to instead limit the ability for people to convert offices to dwellings without planning permission… which is the point at which I turn to discussing something called an Article 4 Direction.
This measure can be issued by the local planning authority to remove all or part of the permitted development rights for a structure or area. It is generally used in conservation areas where the “character” of an area would be affected by certain types of developments, but it is not purely a conservation designation. Rather it is a part of the Town and Country Planning Act and if it can be used for things such as limiting the number of days in the year when you can hold a car boot sale, surely it can be used by local government if they feel that there is a particular problem with office conversions in their area.
Or we could simply remove or limit the permitted development rights for office conversions.
We as a society seem to have a peculiar aversion to admitting when something isn’t working and that we need to reconsider the situation. Or maybe it’s just an aversion to admitting that we were wrong. It might just be that I’ve been conditioned by several years working in and around science fields, but I am firmly of the opinion there is nothing wrong with admitting that you have changed your mind based upon fresh evidence.
The comments from the LGA about the situation with office conversions, however, takes on a certain farcical air when you consider that just two articles below this one in the Planning Portal newsletter, there is an article about how Westminster City Council has been using Article 4 Directions to limit the conversion of office spaces into dwellings.
Michelle recently organised the Annual General Meeting for the Yorkshire and Humber Region on Thursday 25th January 2018. The meeting was held at The Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham.
It was confrmed at the meeting, which was attended by over 20 delegates, that Michelle and Tony Riley were to continue as regional Secreatry and Treasurer respectively. Basil Parylo, the region’s Chairman handed over the role to John Loom. Basil will remain on the Committee as an active CPD Co-ordinator.
Immediately after the formal AGM Sarah Siyver from CABE HQ gave a presentation by the Association’s President David Taylor who unfortunately was unable to attend in person.
The delegates were then provided with a CPD session presented by Simon Leeming of the Coal Authority, this gave an insight into who the Coal Authority are and the services which they provide. He disussed how they have arrived at where they are today and a range of examples of the work that they carry out across the UK. The presentation then looked forward at the new types of work they are undertaking and the opportunities that they see for the future.
More about the Museum
The Clifton Park Museum is an exciting modern museum that takes you through Rotherham’s rich history. The Museum highlights the history of the borough in a way that appeals to all ages and helps to bring both our lives, and those of our ancestors, into sharp focus.
Clifton House was built for Joshua and Susannah Walker in 1783 and has housed Rotherham Museum since 1893. It was designed by the Yorkshire architect John Carr, with additional work added at a later date by Rotherham architect John Platt. It is listed Grade II* due to the many original features still intact.
The Walker family lived here until 1861, when Henry Walker died. After his death the house was bought by William Owen who died 1881. In 1883 the house and grounds were put up for auction for redevelopment but failed to meet the reserve. In 1891 the house was sold to Rotherham Corporation for £23,000 for use as a Municipal Park. The park was opened by the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) in 1891 with grand celebrations, with the Museum opening in 1893. Many of the early collections were made up of items donated and lent by local people. A significant number were also provided by local societies, such as finds from the Roman excavations of Templeborough in 1877 by Rotherham Literary and Scientific Society. The first Museum Curator was also the President of the Rotherham Naturalists Society.
Why not visit http://cliftonpark.org.uk/ for more details on the exhibitions and collections held at the Museum, and entry is completely free.
Write a blog post, they said, it’ll be easy, they said… So, uh, yeah, hi, I’m Amy, newest recruit for Taylor Tuxford Associates. I’m going to be the company Engineering Geologist, social media wrangler and have the dubious distinction of being Rhys and Anne’s daughter
I studied Geology at the University of Manchester for my undergraduate degree after which I promptly discovered that no matter how much fun it might have been, there are surprisingly few jobs that use a straight geology degree! And it was fun… or at least that’s the word the lecturers were using when we were halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia and the rain was coming in sideways. There was also the point at which my flatmates were convinced I was doing a degree in joining the dots and colouring in, but I’m not bitter about that.
I took a break from all things geology related for a year or so after finishing my undergraduate degree, before starting a Masters’ degree in Engineering Geology at the University of Leeds. Engineering geology is essentially geology but with less rocks and more soils and maths.
As an aside, the difference between engineering geology and geotechnical engineering is essentially the amount of maths involved. Engineering geologists are geologists that have been swayed to the dark side of engineering; geotechnical engineers are often civil engineers that have seen the light. Both are convinced they are superior to the other and both are kinda looked down on by “proper” geologists and engineers.
It later turned out that an Engineering Geology Masters’ degree is basically a gateway to academia and I was lured even further to the dark side by the promise of funding for a PhD.
In related news, I may have lost control of this metaphor.
Anyway, I moved to Sheffield, started work in the Civil & Structural Engineering department of the University of Sheffield and was made to interact with Engineers on a daily basis. Having grown up with a Structural Engineer parent, I was well practised in distracting them by offering large amounts of tea and biscuits and, if necessary, scaring them away by discussing such things as Miller Indices and geophysics.
Working for a PhD is a full time job in which you become more than a little obsessed over a single topic and slowly develop a case of imposter syndrome. You learn a lot about your topic and learn even more about all the things you don’t know, leading to a constant feeling that you’re a fraud and that you don’t belong there and that someone, somewhere must have made a mistake. I’m assured that everyone in our research group felt that way at some point.
But I am now one of only a handful of people in the UK and Ireland that can even vaguely consider themselves an expert in expansive pyritic mudrocks… which is nice.
I’m going to be working with Rhys and Michelle on the Geotechnical side of things within the company, as well as taking on some of the design and site investigation work.
A guest writer on their Blog, Milo, presented a thought-provoking post about disabled toilets but from a very different perspective: the provision, or lack thereof, of multi-sex facilities within these toilets. More specifically, the general lack of vending machines for tampons, condoms etc.
Designed for People or Compliance?
It’s fair to say that most designers will follow the guidance set down in approved Document M for disabled toilet layouts and consider that they have successfully achieved compliance with the Building Regulations, job done.
Milo’s perspective shows us that as Designers we must remember that the building must be suitable for everyone, that we are designing spaces for Humans with all kinds of needs, and make sure that we’re not just complying with legislation and guidance. Oh, and we need to provide more mirrors.