Retail destination of the north
A former rail goods yard in Aberdeen is being converted into one of Scotland’s largest retail and leisure zones. Martin Cooper reports from a city where construction activity is showing no signs of a slowdown.
FACT FILE: Union Square, Aberdeen
Main client: Hammerson
Structural engineer: W.A Fairhurst & Partners
Main contractor: Miller Construction
Steelwork contractor: Severfield-Reeve Structures
Project value: £250M
Steel tonnage: 15,000t
As much of the UK’s construction industry begins to feel the chill wind of the credit crunch, the economic situation in Aberdeen has so far shown little or no sign of a downturn.
Buoyed by the North Sea oil industry, Aberdeen has become one of Scotland’s most prosperous cities and something of a boom town. A number of high profile construction projects are currently underway, with a host of others in the offing.
The largest of these jobs is the Union Square development, which occupies a 20 acre plot adjacent to Aberdeen’s railway station and bus terminus. The project has involved two main phases, the first phase of the project included refurbishing the city’s Victorian railway station, constructing a new bus station and building a multi screen cinema. Phase two consists of a shopping mall, retail park, a multi storey car park and a hotel. Once all of this work is completed it will create a new city quarter with its own civic square.
According to Aberdeen City Council, although the city is already the number one shopping area for the North East of Scotland it has faced the threat from other destinations such as Dundee and Inverness. The project aims to ensure Aberdeen will remain in the regional top spot.
Jim Hanna, Contracts Manager for main contractor Miller Construction, says the scheme will form a new centre of gravity for Aberdeen and will benefit from a huge catchment area.
As well as being integrated with the local rail and bus transport hubs, the development is adjacent to the ferry port and this will also bring potential customers to Union Square. “Shoppers from as far a field as the Orkney and Shetland Islands could start using the scheme,” suggests Mr Hanna. “They could drive off the ferry, park in the new multi-storey car park and then load up with shopping before heading back to the islands on an overnight ferry.”
Historically the project has been on the drawing board for some time as the brownfield site, which used to be a rail goods yard, has long been disused. Preparatory works began in early 2007 and involved demolishing old buildings, ripping out old railway tracks, sidings and platforms.
Everything seems to have been built with granite in Aberdeen and the Union Square site was no exception. “Some of the old platforms were built with some huge pieces granite,” says Mr Hanna. “Grubbing out granite was very time consuming.”
A huge operation took place over a three month period and more than 3,000 piles were installed. Once the enabling works had been completed Phase One of the construction project kicked off, which entailed refurbishing the railway station, demolishing and replacing the bus station and erecting the cinema complex.
Work on Aberdeen train station consisted of a new ticket office, lifts, station toilets, facilities for First ScotRail and National Express, a new British Transport Police office and converting a disused section of the building into a new taxi halt. Once the project is finished train passengers will have direct access into the Union Square shopping mall from the renovated train station.
All of the new and renovated structures within the overall Union Square development are steel framed. Bone Steel supplied and erected all steelwork for Phase One, with this work completed in early 2008, with the new bus station opening in February.
The larger of the construction phases, Phase Two, began immediately with Severfield-Reeve starting its steelwork package last May.
The major part of this work consists of the shopping mall, a two-level covered structure which is roughly L-shaped and approximately 280m long. The mall will also be connected to the cinema complex and the hotel at one end and the multi-storey car park at the other. It will contain 56 retail units and 12 catering outlets.
“Steel was chosen on cost grounds, plus speed of construction,” explains Danny Gentles, Project Engineer for W.A Fairhurst. “There have been a number of challenges and design changes with the project and working with steel has made this a little easier.
“The cinema has been through a redesign, the hotel was added at the start of phase two and the basic structural grid was changed during the construction period to allow for a more efficient layout of shop units.”
Stability within the shopping mall and all of the project’s structure’s is derived from a series of braced or portalised bays.
“These stabilised elements are supported by pile groups where the lateral loads generally tended to determine the pile numbers,” adds Mr Gentles.
The attached steel framed three level car park will have a capacity for 1,200 vehicles and sits directly on top of a ground floor retail zone. As Mr Hanna explains, this zone has a slightly higher floor to ceiling height than elsewhere and the thinking behind this was to give the tenants the opportunity for a mezzanine level.
“Once tenants are in, they generally do their own fit-out and some may decide to add an extra internal floor, which there is ample room for,” he adds.
Connected to the mall and adjacent to the car park entrance are another 13 separate retail outlet buildings. Again these structures are being erected with an inbuilt capacity for a mezzanine level, which could be added in the future.
As well as being a predominantly retail led scheme, Union Square will also include an eight storey 203 bedroom hotel with conference facilities, a restaurant, bar and cafe. Jurys Inns has recently been confirmed as the hotel operator.
A hotel was not included in the original design but was added at a later date. The hotel structure sits directly above of sector of the retail mall and adjacent to the cinema. The city of Aberdeen currently suffers from a lack of high quality hotel accommodation and the addition of the Jurys Inn hotel with its conference facilities will go some way to solving this problem.
Union Square will open in autumn 2009.