Race-against-the-clock Kendal water project scoops top award

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PHOTO CAPTION: Project director John Hilton with some of the new blue pipes which were connected into the Haweswater Aqueduct this month. The old pipes can be seen behind him to the left.

A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the even huger Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria has scooped the pipeline industry’s most prestigious award.

The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight day deadline, in a storm AND during the second COVID lockdown, last November – with three hours to spare.

Now the team of 180 people from United Utilities and its framework contractor Mott Macdonald Bentley have been named Utility Project of the Year, by the Pipeline Industries Guild, one of the world’s most respected pipeline associations.

They beat off stiff competition from pipeline projects across the UK in varied disciplines, including power, gas, both onshore and offshore.

Principal construction manager John Dawson said he was ‘tickled pink’ on behalf of everyone who made it happen and helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West as a result.

“This is a fantastic achievement. We were up against some very impressive competition. I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal. Everyone, from the cabin cleaner to the project director, had their own unique part to play. It’s was the best I have ever witnessed in my career,” he said.

Connecting the four new 1.6m diameter pipes meant shutting down the aqueduct for the shortest period possible and marked its first major repair in the 65 years since it was built.

Project Director John Hilton said every hour of every day had been planned in meticulous detail to make sure it went smoothly.

“This is only the third time in its life that the aqueduct has ever been drained and I’ve been there every time. You’d think it would get easier but it doesn’t. This time we were working during a pandemic and we had biblical rain like you wouldn’t believe. When you’re planning something on this scale it’s right to be sensibly paranoid,” he said.

“The other big issue we faced was COVID. As well as rigorous round-the-clock cleaning, team distancing and testing, almost 100 extra trained staff had to be put on stand-by in case an entire work team had to self-isolate. We had hot and cold food brought in and we took over two hotels- one for the night shift, one for the day shift, to reduce the risk of contamination,” said John.

The impressive feat of engineering completed at Hallbank is the first milestone in a much bigger project which will see the replacement of six more tunnel sections along the 109km Haweswater Aqueduct. This £1bn Haweswater Aqueduct Resilience Programme is due to begin in 2023.
The success of the first section at Hallbank will be the blueprint for that future resilience work.