The Peterborough project

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Debenhams is not “Britain’s favourite department store” by accident. It is a demanding client with a clear view of what it wants from a supply chain that has the job of underpinning the company’s intention to open 50 new stores over the next ten years. It is Debenhams’ desire to expand that makes the company responsible for one of the biggest distribution deals in recent years.

Called Project Gemini, the new 16m clear height facility is on the former Hanson brickworks site, off Fletton Parkway, in Hampton, Peterborough, close to the A1M. The scale of the building can be appreciated by its dimensions: it boasts four spans totalling 150m and it is 464m long.

Winvic Construction won the contract to build it. The firm became principle contractor within ProLogis’ ProShed team/supply chain. ProShed is normally a ten-week building-erection programme but in the case of the Peterborough project Winvic had longer but aimed to use proven ProShed solutions. Incredibly, Winvic handed over the shed nearly four weeks early.

ProShed is about taking apart the shed construction process and putting it back together in the right order. It came about because we wanted to offer a design-and-build package in little more time than the paperwork for a leasehold or freehold can take. With most sheds, we can guarantee a 12-week delivery time but Debenhams’ was a little more complicated, so the construction process started in September 2003, but still took just ten months to complete.

For example, thanks to ProShed, we took the unusual step of using pre-cast concrete on the walls on the side where the dock doors hang because it is both stronger and allows us to fit them faster.

Keeping together the ProShed supply chain allowed us and Winvic to use many of the ProShed innovations including steel ground beams in lieu of concrete, a pre-cast concrete lift shaft, a re-engineered dock door solution using concrete panels, and pre-cast panels to partition the warehouse and offices. Like the logistics industry which ProLogis serves, ProShed works because it uses an integrated supply chain, with as many materials as possible pre-ordered so they can be brought in “off the peg” when required.

The shopping list for the site included 2,500 tonnes of steel, more than 60,000 tonnes of concrete, 8,000 concrete piles, each 20m long, and 18 acres of roof material. The warehouse covers 35 acres, the tarmac alone is more than two sq km, and the site’s circumference is more than a mile. The workforce was 300-strong every day during construction. Even the figure for new trees planted at the site is impressive – 400.

For that, Debenhams gets a two-storey office building, pallet stores, 71 loading bays and parking for 91 lorries and 500 cars.

Barrett Steel Buildings, which designed, supplied and erected the steelwork, found the ProShed system worked extremely well to increase efficiency. What worked for Barrett was that the majority of interface problems were eliminated. All the steelwork was fitted at first fix, eliminating the need for return visits. The pre-cast concrete erection was included within Barrett’s package, further simplifying interfaces with other trades.

It was not just ProShed that brought Debenhams this great building. To get as far as the build process, we needed not just a great contractor and simply amazing sub-contractors, we needed help from local government, too.

When ProLogis took on the site, it had outline consent. But the site’s former use as brickworks made it hard to regenerate. It was characterised by the holes in the ground from which the bricks came. These holes had been backfilled with pulverised fuel ash and topsoil put on. It had been farmed for 15 years but it was still a brownfield site.

Because of its use as farmland, it was hard too, to persuade local homeowners that it was not the greenfield site that many of them assumed but that it had been zoned for development since the 1980s. It took time but we did this.

Another problem at Peterborough was that the allocation for the site met the kind of demand you would expect of the early 1990s – 4,650sq m (50,000sq ft) buildings for B1/B2/B8. Who knew in those days that demand would be for building 15 times that size? We had to adapt the site’s existing consent to the kind of demand we are experiencing now, which is for much bigger single buildings.

Peterborough planners were extremely helpful. They understood that B8 is great for employment – against popular belief – and they needed to solve an unemployment problem that had come about due to declining manufacturing. Peterborough Council foresees no difficulty in filling local jobs slots brought about by Debenhams’ scheme.

Integration is also part of the planners’ culture in Peterborough.

A new road, which will link the development to Fletton Parkway, off J3A, is well under way. There is a new 8,000-home town going up at Hampton and the development land adjoins the East Coast Main Line.

Before we obtained planning consent for Project Gemini, Peterborough had a name for itself as host city for Ikea’s £40M “super warehouse” by Fletton Lake, which employs some 500 staff. Among them was Peterborough’s 50,000th new worker since it was declared a new town in 1970.

Due to open in 2005 and be fully operational by spring 2006, the Debenhams scheme will employ 850 staff and create another 50-acre site for similar commercial development.

Winvic handed over the £25M building at the end of July this year. Debenhams is now spending a year installing its own equipment.

Project Gemini is a triumph of modern design and building processes, of pro-active planning officers and of a system that works well towards a solution for a client. Debenhams, I am pleased to report, is delighted with its new facility. n

Fergie Taylor is vice-president, project management at ProLogis Developments. Tel: 0121 224 8700.

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