Worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment, here in the North East

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It was recently announced that Northumbria and Newcastle University had been jointly awarded £8million to create the worlds’ first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE).

Experts from both universities will develop new technologies to revolutionise how buildings are constructed and how they operate. By bringing together architects, engineers and bio-scientists the aim is that they can work towards developing sustainable materials and architectural structures which are responsive to the natural environment, grown using living engineered materials, process their own waste, reduce pollution, generate energy and support a biological environment that benefits health.

HBBE, which launched earlier this month, comprises of a micro design lab (based in Northumbria) and a macro bio-design lab (based at Newcastle) which will allow students to develop new technologies; from environmentally friendly molecules to materials. The hub also includes The OME, an experimental house where students will be able to test their research. This is what I’m most excited about, by giving students a place to implement their findings in a real-life setting the successful materials and systems will be ready to use immediately. It won’t be a case of months of hard work only to find out they don’t work when applied to real situations.

Research conducted through the HBBE is categorised by three themes:

  • Building Metabolism – which aims to develop a new generation of microbial technologies that will act as building metabolisms – processing waste and generating energy and useful products.
  • Living Construction – which will foster a new generation of bulk-engineered living materials that are intelligently synthesised and activated using microbial processes.
  • Microbial Environments – where the objective is to better understand and computationally predict the interaction between the built environment and microbes and to cultivate healthy environments.

The fund has been awarded from Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund, made available through the modern Industrial Strategy. The original modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves and I think we’ve certainly shown that we are, and we’ve been rewarded for that. We’re wanting to change and move in the right direction and the fund is only going to support that. For a while now the industry has been taking responsibility in how we work and putting more effort into tackling the climate crisis. The current construction of buildings is unstainable due to its carbon footprint given that the built environment currently contributes 40% to the UK’s carbon footprint.

I’m so happy we’re looking at new building methods, new materials and technologies, all of which will have a positive impact on the environment, and I’m even happier that the latest research is happening here, in the North East.

Engineering in the North East

Guest blog by Kevin Byrne, Managing Director of Seymour Civil Engineering Contractors Ltd

Kevin Byrne, Managing Director of Seymour Civil Engineering, believes that the North East is the definitive birthplace of modern engineering and it is here that engineering has made the most impact. Not just on our region but on the world itself. We spoke to Kevin about what makes the North East of England such an important area and what we can do to ensure that heritage continues.

“The North East’s background and history in engineering is probably one of the strongest in the world. Some of the finest engineers came from the North East; including Sir William Armstrong, inventor of high-pressure hydraulic machinery who revolutionised the design of guns and George Stephenson, the ‘Father of Railroads’.

The region has a massive history of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. It was synonymous with quality shipbuilding and the steel industry, and saw the design, build and export of some of the world’s most famous bridges, the most famous being Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can see the massive input this region has had on the world’s infrastructure.

Engineering has had an undeniable effect on the North East, but most people who have never visited the North East won’t understand that.

It is a fabulous place with a terrific infrastructure that is still being improved upon. The quality of life and work/life balance in the region is fantastic. We have a beautiful countryside and it is serviced by a massive and robust infrastructure.

Seymour has recently been involved in a major engineering project in the region which aims to assist the local economy, the A19 Silverlink Roundabout. A triple decker roundabout that will aim to alleviate a lot of congestion and allow the ports to take in a lot more traffic. Seymour’s role was to install £8m highway and kerb drainage on the scheme on behalf of Sisk Lagan

The future is bright for the region. There is fabulous technology being developed in the North East and we’re now looking at developing advanced manufacturing and turning Teesport, the third largest port in the UK, into a freeport.

The North East is, as far as I’m concerned, looking at a renaissance and to avoid using the B word. I believe the region can be a beneficiary of the outcome of our exit from Europe as we will be able to compete and bring engineering and manufacturing home.

We as a civil engineering company, can see that a lot of manufacturing organisations will need infrastructure, buildings, premises and laydown areas and we see this as a market trend that we’re ready to take advantage of.

Engineering has had an impact on the economy of the region, as it has an effect on any economy around the world.

A lot of people don’t know what engineering is or even notice it until something goes wrong and it’s often overlooked as everyone takes it for granted.

I’ve worked in the North East since 1989, after moving across from Lancashire, and the one piece of engineering in the region I regularly go to is the Millennium Bridge in Gateshead which crosses the Tyne. It’s a fantastic piece of engineering which was cleverly done. It was manufactured five or six miles down the river and put into place by possibly the largest lifting barge in the world back then.

From a purely engineering point of view, that was a very prestige job. It’s iconic of the Newcastle/Gateshead connection and over the years I’ve seen Newcastle grow from being a working dock to what it is now, a centre of excellence in terms of working space, leisure and housing.

The region has had some terrific pieces of engineering, another of which would be the Angel of the North, built in Hartlepool, but I think there are also quite a few jobs which are not quite as iconic but are just as vital.

These are the sea defence jobs and sewage facilities that are often buried, and no one would even know they are there. However, without them there would be flood issues and less than attractive places to live.

So, while I am aware of those jobs – the public wouldn’t necessarily give them a second thought.

I often point out the sports fields in the region to people and they ask me why I find them fascinating. For me, it’s not the fields themselves but rather what’s under them which is absolutely terrific.

Hidden engineering is all around us and without it, things would be very different indeed.

The North East has obviously experienced somewhat of a decline over recent years which has resulted in workers re-educating themselves. The region is now a hotbed of cutting edge advanced manufacturing, technology and offshore wind farming. I honestly believe that the North East is far better than what the ratings would ever give it.

The fact that we have five top class universities with world leading programmes means we have a massive education facility for the development of people in the North East, that is second to none.

I believe post Brexit, as manufacturing comes back, the North East will develop technologies that will be exportable throughout the world and I honestly believe that, whilst there is always room for improvement, the North East is a lot more advanced than what we give ourselves credit for.

Ideally, we need to move people away from large metropolitan areas – in order to do that we need to improve transport links and we have to get the lifestyle facilities in different parts of the UK to make it desirable for commuters. That issue falls with us in the engineering sector.

The North East has always produced the best engineers in the world. We took the railways abroad, we took the canals abroad, the power stations, infrastructure, shipbuilding and bridgebuilding. We have the talent, the generations, the feedstock and the bloodline.

Let’s carry on doing what we do best.”

CAN to launch intelligent procurement campaign

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Following a recent workshop with its committee, Construction Alliance NorthEast (CAN) is launching a campaign to promote intelligent procurement. CAN wishes to clarify its position on what intelligent procurement means and the benefits it would deliver for the region, if adopted.

CAN was established in 2016 to create more of a level playing field for regional SME contractors when tendering for work. It was formed after the recession because many SME construction companies had been badly affected by the use of single-sourced frameworks, which excluded many from tendering – either because their turnover was too low or because they were unable to demonstrate enough similar projects.

Through intelligent procurement, CAN seeks to create a common-sense approach to tendering.  Its values relate to three aspects of ‘local’:

  • local money being spent with regional companies to ensure regional investment
  • local companies being placed at the heart of supply chain strategies to facilitate more sustainable employment opportunities – particularly for young people
  • local growth, which will follow when regional productivity increases

Local companies need more clarity about future pipelines of work to be confident about taking on more trainees and apprentices who can then develop to become the managers of the future. With the local agenda in clear view, CAN is working relentlessly with regional procurement bodies – recently we reported on its success with NEPO to raise awareness about the talent which can be found within the North East construction industry.

As one of its aims, CAN is promoting the use of selected tender lists featuring local companies, as an alternative to single-sourced frameworks and is looking for strategic support from the leaders of local public and private organisations across the North East, including their formal endorsement of intelligent procurement. The wider regional supply chain must also adopt this approach so that the right company is awarded the right job – a horses for courses approach; the use of local providers of technical skills, services and products needs prioritising, more effective collaboration is to be encouraged, the widespread adoption of digital technologies embraced, the development of processes and people re-evaluated and issues surrounding payment terms, project bank accounts and retentions resolved.

CAN is keen to work with local procurement bodies to better understand their issues and together look at better and fairer ways of procuring construction projects in the North East. While CAN undoubtedly has a massive job on its hands to effect these changes and deliver on its promise of ‘Constructing the Region’ – if successful, the North East construction industry has a bright future ahead of it.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

The Whey Aye wheel – what will it add to the North East?

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week, plans were approved to build the Whey Aye wheel on Newcastle Quayside. The Whey Aye will be Europe’s tallest observation wheel, standing nearly 140m high – 5m taller than the London Eye.

The original planning proposal for the wheel was for 10 years, but it’s been granted permanent planning permission. It’s expected to attract an additional 261,000 visitors to the city each year – generating almost £15m for the economy. The wheel will be built at Spillers Wharf, on the River Tyne. This site has been derelict since 2011 and I fully support it being brought back to life, but I’m not sure yet about the proposed plan. This project, and many others send out a powerful message about the ambition of the North East. Too often we’re forgotten about, with projects that could benefit us never making it out of London. We’re constantly working to improve the region and it’s about time we showed the world the North East we all know and love. There are already so many things to be proud of and significant projects like this seek to raise the profile of the North East.

It seems I’m not the only one with reservations about the plans, which aren’t fully supported by everyone in the region. Many people think the wheel will look cheap, nasty and add nothing to the city whilst others fear the loss of the Ouseburn, seen by many as a unique community.

The project will form the centrepiece of The Giants on the Quayside development, which will include a family entertainment centre filled with trampolines, climbing walls, a skywalk and café. A ‘Giant Sport Deck’ will also be built, featuring a multi-purpose play and sports complex, with covered five-a-side pitches and tennis courts available for public hire, as well as a virtual golf club called The Quayside Golf Club. The development hopes to change the city, creating jobs for residents and attracting thousands of new visitors.

Muckle and Ryder Architecture, both Newcastle based companies, have been appointed to work on the project, as well as Black & White Engineering and Lichfields.

There are also plans for a 12m tall human-shaped structure to be based at the development. A public competition for people to propose designs for ‘The Geordie Giant’ will be revealed later in the year.

The project, which is expected to be open to the public in 2023, is more than just a collection of retail, leisure and entertainment space, it shows the ambition and capability of what we can achieve. The North East has a built environment littered with striking landmarks, great achievements and a rich history, one I’m extremely proud of – it will be interesting to see what this project adds to that?

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk