Mine Shaft Investigation

DBS have been on site this week prospecting for a mine shaft in Northumberland.  We prepared a Coal Mining Risk Assessment (CMRA) report for the site, to support a planning application for a change of use to residential.

The CMRA report identified a potential historical mine shaft feature on the site, as recorded by The Coal Authority.  The shaft had no treatment details available for it.  As a result, it potentially presented ground stability risks to the new development and standard procedure in that instance is to find the shaft, check its capping status, and if it is not capped to current standards, then it needs capping with a structural cap.  The proposed housing layout may also need to be tweaked to accommodate the shaft, by not having property footprints within its potential collapse zone.

Through our research we identified that a farm had been present on the site from the early 1800’s, historical Ordnance Survey plans dating from the early 1800s did not show a mine shaft on site, nor did available historical tenancy agreements mention a mine shaft that went back to the 1500s (that’s good record keeping).

We therefore concluded that, if present, the shaft almost certainly pre-dated the farm meaning it dated to the 1700s, or earlier.

Mine shafts in this part of rural Northumberland where the site is located typically relate to shallow bell pit type arrangements that worked shallow coal outcrops, and also lime.  The coals form part of the Limestone series and are thin, coal was therefore typically worked at outcrop along with Lime to provide soil improver for agriculture (lime kilns are common historical features locally), the shafts were abandoned when groundwater could not be controlled, or ventilation.

The shaft would then be abandoned and another sunk further along the outcrop.

So, the recorded location of the shaft had to be investigated to identify if ground stability risks were present. An application was made to The Coal Authority to obtain a permit to investigate their interests, and on receipt of the permit an intrusive ground investigation of the shaft location was undertaken using an excavator.

A four gas alarm was maintained on site to identify any release of mine gas during the work (explosive and asphyxiating), and the work proceed initially by way of trial trenching through the recorded shaft location with the excavator (the recorded shaft position was set out on site using GPS first), then by scraping a 10m radius around the shaft location to remove surface soils down to natural clay, so that the subsurface could be inspected for anomaly’s that would potentially indicate a shaft.  It is a bit like archaeological digs but on a slightly bigger scale.

We found several subsurface features, including a brick lined infilled chamber that we initially thought was the shaft, but after careful excavation it was found to be a relic surface water drainage chamber only.

The intrusive investigation confirmed the absence of a shaft at its recorded location, or within a 10m radius of it, this is not unusual as old records can always be incorrect.  Our mine shaft completion report has been submitted to the Coal Authority to support their assessment of risk and to support the eventual planning application for a change of use.

Some photos of the work are presented below.


Brexit, The Repeal Bill – Fact Sheet 8 Environmental Protections

The governments Department for Exiting the European Union has issued a Fact Sheet explaining how Environmental Protection will be managed upon leaving the EU.

Fact Sheet 8 – Environmental Protections is available to view on the governments website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627999/Environmental_protections_factsheet.pdf?dm_i=2YUK,I0XG,1KIS6D,1VPCP,1

The information confirms that the Repeal Bill will convert the existing body of EU environmental law into UK law, making sure the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

A comprehensive 25 year Environment Plan will be published  that will chart how the UK will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again.

The Government states that it is “committed to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited it.  Leaving the EU means we now have a unique opportunity to design a set of policies to drive environmental improvement with a powerful and permanent impact, tailored to the needs of our country”.

A Thousand Reasons to Be Cheerful

DBS have recently passed the thousand project stage; actually over one thousand one hundred projects delivered successfully since we formed in January 2011.

It was a bit of a leap of faith at start up in 2011 as the biggest recession in living memory was still in place, but there were slow green shoots emerging of a recovery and it felt like a good time to try and establish a new business and grow with it, selling our core services based on quality, responsiveness and competitiveness.

We have established ourselves on those principles, and look forward to moving on to deliver more successful projects moving forward with the strong client relationships that we have established.

So, a thousand reasons to be cheerful, even if we do say so ourselves!

Site Characterisation Near Former Iron Works Site, Northumberland

We are currently working on a new residential development site located in the Northumberland National Park, near Otterburn.

The site is highly rural and is located approximately 30 miles north of Hexham; it formerly comprised of agricultural land only, however, there was some unusual heavy industry (for this remote area) present off site within influencing distance comprising a large iron works with associated features such as coke ovens, railways and mining.

The iron works was short lived, but was impressive in scale.  Local History information confirms the iron works to be “Hareshaw Iron Works“, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  It was one of a number of widespread sites in the region which grew up to satisfy the rising demand for iron from the 1830s onwards.  It exploited local supplies of coal, iron ore and limestone.  Its early demise was the result of the exhaustion of raw materials and its peripheral location relative to markets compared with rivals on Teesside.  Even its temporary success is rather surprising in view of the poor transport of the times; iron was moved by indifferent roads over considerable distances to Newcastle and Tyneside where amongst other things, iron from the works was used in the construction of the High Level Bridge over the River Tyne. 

The enterprise at Bellingham used two blast furnaces initially, with another coming into production in 1840.  The works closed in 1848 and was ruinous by the 1860s.

Iron ore was obtained from the hills north of Bellingham and from Redesdale Common to the north east.  Coal from the local Hareshaw Head Pit (still working in 1952) was unsuitable for either coking coal, for use in blast furnaces, or for calcining iron ore, which meant that fuel had to be brought from Plashetts Colliery at considerable cost in spite of a mineral line running down the North Tyne valley.  Surviving company records show that the three blast furnaces were blown by a 70 horsepower water wheel and a 120 horsepower steam engine.  In addition, there were 70 coke ovens, 24 roasting kilns, a range of coal stores, and a railway on gears communicating with the stores.  Other structures included offices, a joiner’s shop, a smithy, a large store, stables and a waggon shed while tramways and waggonways communicated with several buildings, the mines and the quarries.

Today, the site of Hareshaw Ironworks has reverted largely to pasture with demolished remains showing as irregular earthworks.  Grass-covered waste heaps on adjacent hillsides are the most visible evidence of the once industrial landscape.  The main blast furnace site is largely occupied by a modern factory.  Still visible structures include the remains of the works dam across the Hareshaw Burn, built in 1838.  It now stands to half its original height of 6m.  The remains were consolidated at the beginning of the 21st century. 

A nearby tramway formation can be followed to the earthworks of the collapsed coke ovens 20m above the floor of the main ironworks site.  The site of the blowing engine house and the water wheel also survive as earthworks.  Other remains include the lower parts of a furnace stack and the foundry yard. 

The site is managed by the Northumberland National Park Authority. 

So, what appeared to be an easy site to take forward for a change of use located within a stunning setting became more intensive, as we had to establish the potential for issues from the off site industry affecting our site.  We undertook a detailed Phase 2 Ground Investigation to establish the nature of the superficial materials at the site, comprising a Trial Pit investigation with a JCB 3CX Sitemaster, and drilling with a cable percussion drilling rig, and also a deeper investigation of the bedrock with a rotary drilling rig to check for the presence of coal/worked coal seams and ironstone seams.

Trial pits were sunk to 4.5m bgl, cable percussion boreholes to 10m bgl, and rotary boreholes to 30m bgl.  Cable percussion boreholes were installed with monitoring wells upon completion, with all other holes backfilled.

Our work is continuing to characterise the site to achieve full planning consent, at present we are half way through an environmental monitoring programme comprising groundwater level monitoring, and ground gas monitoring (methane, carbon dioxide and trace gases).

Some pictures from the last monitoring visit and the site are provided below, as well as some pictures of the High Level Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, where the iron works steel was used.  The bridge is also famous for a scene in the movie “Get Carter“, starring Michael Caine and filmed in 1971 around the North East.

North East Sport Bayern Under 7s

DBS are proud sponsors of North East Sport Bayern Under 7s junior football team, currently playing in the Russell Forster mini league.  We have some budding Messi’s and Ronaldo’s coming through for sure, its great to see such enthusiasm to play competitively at this young age, and no shortage on the skill front.

The boys won 4-1 last game, the write up from the game can be viewed on North East Sports Facebook page, also repeated here:

North East Sport Bayern played some fantastic football at the weekend to get back to winning ways in the league. James and Sam N were great between the sticks with excellent concentration and distribution of the ball. After going a goal behind Sam J came up with a wonder strike to make it 1-1.

With the game even some great work by Harry, who was brilliant throughout, down the right hand side resulted in Zac scoring through his typical sheer determination to make it 2-1 going in to half time to make it two goals in two games in the league.  Grayson had a fantastic game, breaking up play brilliantly and showing for his team mates all the time.  Charlie was top notch showing pace and a great touch up front. After swapping the gloves with the energetic Sam N at half time James scored with an unbelievable effort to make it 3-1.

The lads didn’t rest and pushed their opposition in to an own goal in the closing minutes. Each player played to the best of their ability and left everything on the pitch. The opposition manager had no hesitation in choosing Sam J to take home the MOM award after a brilliant captain’s performance.

Well done boys!

Environmental Due Diligence

After a well received Christmas break we are back into project work with a strong order book in 2017, and property transaction support work appears to be an increasing work stream for us with confidence in the region appearing strong since Brexit.

We have just completed Environmental Due Diligence for two large commercial/industrial sites located in the North East of England, one in County Durham, the other in South Tyneside.

Our work is supporting the sale of one of the sites to market; we have prepared a Phase 1 Environmental Liability report for the site that is to be included within the sales pack being prepared by the land agent.  The work included a full historical appraisal of the site going back to “greenfield” conditions, an appraisal the sites environmental setting and its regulatory status, a review of its Environmental Permit status, and an initial environmental audit of all land with the sites ownership boundary and its manufacturing facility.  Following this we have prepared a Phase 1 Environmental Liability report that will provide potential purchasers with an appraisal of the site with regards to potential environmental liabilities and any headline constraints.

The other site is currently being purchased by our client for continued commercial/industrial use; again we have prepared a Phase 1 Environmental Liability report to support acquisition, inclusive of a site walkover survey.  As part of this work potential UXO risk was also evaluated due to the sites location close to Tyne Dock.  Our work provided initial information to our clients legal team to support the acquisition process and to allow them to better quantify any purchase risks with regards to any on site historical risks from contamination.

Both projects are confidential at this stage, so we cannot provide any more specific information with regards to issues on either site, we will provide an update as the work nears completion.

Environmental Due Diligence for property transactions is an essential component of the acquisition, or, divestiture process, and is one that is surprisingly frequently overlooked.

If you are thinking of purchasing land or existing property to increase your portfolio, or, to develop your business, or are thinking of selling and need information to support your sale, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a friendly (and free!) chat around your specific requirements.

Site Walkover Surveys

Our engineers have been out of the office completing multiple Site Walkover Surveys in recent weeks.  The surveys are completed as part of our Phase 1 Desk Study services, and form an integral part of our Phase 1 Desk Study reports.  The purpose of the survey is to basically see a site in the flesh, to identify potential sources of contamination that could impact land and the surrounding environment, such as Above Ground Storage Tanks (ASTs), Underground Storage Tanks (USTs), pipelines, chemical storage areas, general site use etc.

Our engineers complete a pro-forma questionnaire for each site and take photographs that help to inform our reports and ultimately the sites Conceptual Model.  As well as contamination sources, other relevant details such as off site use, site access, building layouts, evidence of staining/vegetation die back, hummocky ground that could indicate buried wastes, presence of drainage/oil interceptors, site topography etc is checked and recorded.

It is essential that a site walkover survey is completed to inform a Phase 1 Desk Study report, as for obvious reasons the report is not compliant with UK Best Practice and relevant guidance, such as the EA/Defra document “CLR11 Model Procedures for the Management of Land Contamination“.  You cannot risk assess a site properly without seeing it and reconciling it with features identified during the historical review of Ordnance Survey mapping, also completed as part of the Phase 1 reporting process.  Ultimately, a Phase 1 report not completed properly can lead to significant cost and time delays on projects as they move forward through the risk assessment process.

It is also a part of the job our consultants really enjoy doing, as it gets them out of the office and onto site.

We have completed site visits in recent weeks in rural Northumberland in the villages of Lucker and Amble, North Tyneside, Darlington, Ellesmere Port, Weardale and Blackburn.  Some photos from the visits are posted below.

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Wear Rivers Trust

We have just delivered a package of work for the Wear Rivers Trust in County Durham.  Ecological improvement works are planned by the Trust in the Stanley Burn catchment area to create and improve habitats, to improve surface water quality and help fluvial flooding impacts. The work is being progressed under permitted development rights with the Environment Agency.

DBS undertook a detailed Phase 1 Desk Study appraisal of the wider area comprising over 25 hectares of land, focusing on six priority areas for the Trust.  From that work we established the sites initial Conceptual Model (CM), and identified potential risk areas where contamination could be present in the subsurface due to past historical industry, this primarily related to Coal Mining and the presence of a large historical landfill.

Risks to the environment through the mobilisation of historic contamination were considered, as well as risks to human health through the improvements works and end users of the sites.  In total, three areas were identified for further investigation comprising intrusive investigation; we designed a cost effective programme of works to identify if theoretical pollutant linkages identified at desk study stage were significant, or not.

As the improvement works comprised of the shallow excavation of near surface soils only, a ground investigation (GI) comprising Hand Dug Pitting with a thermally insulated (to protect against buried services) double handed shovel and draining tool was designed as a cost effective approach, the maximum target depth of the work was only 1.0m bgl.  Representative samples were taken representing near surface (topsoil and subsoil) and deeper deposits (Glacial Till) for chemical analysis in the laboratory.  Two DBS engineers worked together to investigate the site, the benefit of not using a machine or drilling rig for the work, as well as saving costs, also ensured that the surrounding areas of the nature reserves were not disturbed.

Following the GI, a Phase 2 interpretative Contaminated Land report was prepared for three individual sites amalgamated as one concise report, the report identified that all areas of the site chosen for further work were “suitable for use”, soils testing results were screened against Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and Land Quality Managements Suitable for Use Levels (S4ULs) for Public Open Space (Park) end use.  The report also advised on suitable disposal routes for any arising’s needing to be disposed of as part of the eventual improvement works.

The work provided the Trust with the confidence they needed in advance of large scale excavation works that all risks from contamination were controlled, and that the work could proceed safely.

Some photo’s from the GI are attached.

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New Housing Development

DBS were on site last week supervising a Phase 2 Geoenvironmental Ground Investigation on a development site proposed for residential housing.

The ground investigation comprised a combination of mechanically excavated trial pits to maximum depths of 4.5m bgl, with cable percussion boreholes to maximum depths of 10m bgl.  DBS designed the investigation to obtain information on ground conditions, site chemistry, and to refine the sites Conceptual Model.  The work was undertaken to provide geotechnical (in situ and laboratory) information to allow foundation solutions to be designed, and environmental samples for chemical analysis.  The work will also support planning condition discharge for the new development with regards to contaminated land and ground stability.

The exploratory holes were set out on a grid system using a hand held GPS pre-programmed with six figure grid references, and each exploratory hole location was checked with a Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT) to confirm the absence of buried services.  Our engineer then supervised the work, logging all arisings to BS/Eurocodes standards.

The excavator was hired in by the client, the drilling company was PB Drilling of Wigan.

Pictures of the GI in full swing are provided below.

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