The race to construct the Shard

I found the Channel 4 programme, The Tallest Tower – Building The Shard, which aired last week, grimly fascinating. Whether a slant had been put on the nature of the construction by the programme’s producers or not, I cannot say, but the overall impression I got of the development was one of unseemly, urgent haste. A particular example was the fact that windy days – on which construction on the upper levels had to cease – did not appear to be budgeted for. Days were ‘lost’ due to high wind, and construction had to ‘catch up’, despite the fact that wind is quite a common phenomenon in the British Isles (indeed the site manager at one point says ‘if the wind blows, we’re stuffed.’)  There was no slack, apparently, in the construction schedule.

Another example comes during the building of the foundations of the Shard, about 18 minutes into the programme. We are informed that because construction is ‘at a standstill’, the builders have to ‘go for broke’ with a record-breaking concrete pour. This involved bringing ‘a vast amount of concrete in’; an amount that would normally be poured in a day was poured every hour, continuously, for 36 hours. In just this period, 700 concrete mixers arrived at the site.

This was, we are told, a ‘giant logistical operation, run with military precision’. Unfortunately this ‘precision’ did not seem to extend to an assessment of how realistic it would be to get this number of lorries to the site on time. Mark Devlin, the logistics manager of the site, says

London is a busy city, so let’s just say, six or seven out of ten [lorries] are on time.

That sounds impressive, but what it means in practice is that a third of the lorries arriving at the site were unable to meet the deadlines they had been set. I don’t think that’s because the lorries were pootling about, or their drivers were having cups of tea, or were waving ladies across the road in front of them. That’s not my experience of how lorries are driven in London, anyway.

What this titbit of information from Mark Devlin tells us is that the deadlines were not realistic, and drivers were presumably having to race to meet them. London is, and always has been, ‘a busy city’, and the way the deadlines were set should have taken account of that fact, and not left wafer-thin margins for delay.

David Vilaseca was killed on 9th February 2010, at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Druid Street, Southwark by a Ron Smith Recycling lorry turning left. It is unclear whether this vehicle was involved in the Shard construction, but that is a plausible destination, given the left turn onto Druid Street.

Muhammed Haris Ahmed was killed in Weston Street on the 9th March 2010 by a Keltbay tipper truck, servicing the Shard.

David Poblet was killed at the junction of Tanner Street and Tooley Street in Bermondsey  on 22nd March 2011 by a skip lorry – I should stress, however, there is no confirmation that this vehicle was heading to the Shard site.

Ellie Carey was killed at the junction of Abbey Street and Tower Bridge Road, Southwark on Friday 2nd December 2011, by an HGV turning left. At the time, I remember hearing this was a lorry delivering glass to the Shard, but as with the lorries that killed David Vilaseca and David Poblet, I cannot find confirmation. Again, the direction of the lorry suggests the Shard as a possible destination.

A left-turning Keltbray lorry servicing the Shard was also involved in this incident

at the junction of Borough High Street and Great Dover Street, in which a female cyclist suffered a broken ankle.

I can’t help noticing either that this lorry

which drove over a cyclist at the junction of Joiner Street and London Bridge on 18th October 2011, is turning into the Shard site, carrying what appear to be steel girders for the upper section of the Shard.

These are just the incidents I can recall – doubtless there were more in the area.

Whether the deadlines set by the construction companies caused any of these drivers to hurry, and consequently to pay slightly less attention to the people around their vehicles than they might otherwise have done, is of course a matter for speculation. But a reasonable inference can be made.

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24 Responses to The race to construct the Shard

  1. Pingback: Should the HSE investigate deaths of cyclists? « Matthew Butt

  2. Video is blocked in my country (UK) on copyright grounds.

    • I thought it might be. I’ve removed it and edited the post slightly. You can watch the programme by following the link at the start of the post; the relevant section is about 18 minutes in.

  3. John says:

    There was a time when every major construction project came with a death toll. Canals, railways, dams, etc. Seems we haven’t truly put that behind us.

    This really is worth of mainstream press attention.

  4. livinginabox says:

    Although I have no idea of how prevalent it is, I’ve heard that van drivers for multi-drop delivery courier companies are typically given unrealistic delivery times for journeys, which strongly encourages the drivers to speed and jump red lights etc. There’s enormous pressure to make deliveries and many drivers are self employed or temporary, they can easily be replaced by another who will ‘perform’.
    Perhaps this might account for the Motoring offences among commercial drivers: Van drivers @ 61% and Lorry drivers @56%
    Visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15975564
    and click on the dangerous driving [van] tab.

  5. Tim says:

    Reblogged this on peoplesfrontofrichmond and commented:
    ‘As easy as riding a bike’ provides an excellent analysis of how we fail at every level to think about roads users other than cars or trucks …

  6. Tim says:

    So, if cyclist deaths go down next year, TfL and co will claim the credit, whereas it’ll likely simply be because of the absence of an absurdly large building project … Pity we can’t FoI these people, although there must be some way one of the local authorities should have looked at this, perhaps …

  7. illi says:

    Scandalous! Very good work to monitor this so thoroughly!

  8. Well researched! It seems irresponsible of the construction managers to demand such urgency from their drivers. Tragic consequences.

  9. Paul M says:

    I wouldn’t be too sure that the documentary is an accurate reflection of the truth Are we really supposed to believe that the project managers take no account of bad weather – in this country? This sounds a bit like that documentary about the “war” between cyclists and motorists, based on helmet cam footage. Fact is, independent documentary makers trying to sell product to the TV companies will want to make a splash and promise audience ratings, to get the widest possible market for their products, and with a few honourable exceptions, most UK TV documentary these days is trivial, populist trash.

    I am not convinced that the Shard’s project managers really had any panic attacks about getting materials on site in time. That does not, however, dismiss the charge that deliveries to construction sites, or anywhere else that matter, are structurally dangerous

    The way the typical modern driver is paid does indeed make for dangerous drivers. Couriers, HGV drivers, and Addison Lee minicab drivers among others are are technically “self-employed”, paid per delivery or per journey and either having to provide their own vehicle or, in the case of AdLee, lease one from the company. The pressure is on them to take on and complete as many jobs as they can, as fast as they can, and to cut every corner they can to achieve that.

    At the risk of proffering the Nuremburg Defence, you can’t entirely blame the drivers. They are just poor schmucks trying to earn a living in a “market” economy which is rigged against them from the very start. Too many modern companies aim to make profits by squeezing costs rather than by offering a superior product or service to make bigger sales, and drivers are just one group of employees who get squeezed in this process. And if you are minded to blame this on conservative policies, especially Thatcherism, reflect on the fact that the process accelerated under Tony Blair.

    We really don’t want cycling to become political, or at any rate not party-political, but is that realistic? There is no doubt that there are many Tories who cycle far and frequently, possibly more so than Labour politicians – certainly most of the high-profile examples are conservatives. However it is also quite evident that they take a libertarian approach to cycling – anyone can do it, you just have to have the cojones, so man up and get on with it. The notion that this freedom of choice is not really freedom at all simply doesn’t occur to them, any more than they apparently realise that parents are not “free” to choose their children’s schools.

    What could be done? Speed restrictions and access restrictions would be a start, but the entire economic model for the road haulage and transport industries need reform. Hackney cab drivers don’t presdent the same risk, because the fare strcuture doesn’t place them under the same pressure. We need this because segregation, while the preferred answer on all busy or fast roads, is never going to be feasible everywhere.

    • Yes, I was careful to add the caveat that I wasn’t sure about how accurate a representation of the construction schedule the programme was making – I suppose it makes it more ‘gripping’ to pretend that the deadlines are tight.

      I should also be clear that, like you, I think many of the drivers are victims of the scheduling constraints they are placed under.

  10. Jim says:

    This afternoon I saw a huge lorry with a rather Shard-like bit of metal on its back make an illegal right turn from Borough High Street onto Duke Street Hill, barrelling through the lights at the top of the hill while pedestrians had a green man to cross. So I would say that while it is not all the drivers’ fault, quite a lot of it is.

    • PaulM says:

      As I say, beware the Nuremburg defence, but if the driver faces sanctions for late delivery, he will start to take chances which he would not take otherwise. Cabbies might stretch the envelope a little, but they don’t commit the more egregious offences, not simply because of the penalties if they are caught (*if*) but because the pricing structure doesn’t make it worth their while.

  11. Pingback: Important: Shard HGV Routes published for Fri 16th > Sat 17th April 2010. Avoid area! - Page 2 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  12. rabthecab says:

    I know I’ll get brickbats for this, but you seem to be saying that each & every accident involving a vehicle & cyclist is always the fault of the driver, which is simply not the case. Every day I see cyclists wilfully disregarding even the most basic Highway Code rules, endangering both themselves and (not always but mostly) pedestrians, as well as other road users.

    A case in point: Last week I was on a pelican crossing on Old Kent Rd, along with OAPs & schoolchildren, when a cyclist came barreling through the red light, scattering pedestrians hither & thither. I managed to catch up with him at Tesco and, when I pointed out what he had done, his response was “I couldn’t give a f*** mate.” Unfortunately many cyclists share his total disregard for others.

    As for Hackney cabs being the safest drivers on the road, again this is simply not true. In fact only yesterday I witnessd a cyclist being knocked off his bike by a Hackney, so please don’t tell me it never happens. And in my 26 yrs in London I have seen a great many accidents involving Hackneys, they have a total disregard for every other road user (including other Hacks!)

    Cyclists have a duty to themselves & others to obey the same rules as everyone else & to ride in a safe manner. Jumping on a bike, when the last one you rode was for your cycling proficiency test in Primary school, poses a danger not only to the cyclist but other road users.

  13. Rob Telford says:

    First up, I’ve been following the construction of The Shard very closely for the last two and a half years.

    Second, I cycle daily right past the Shard site on my commute to work, either down Tooley Street or up St Thomas Street, depending on what’s been happening with traffic.

    So, the issues you’re writing about are of more than a little interest to me… there are some genuine concerns about HGVs in London.

    However, I am unsure that your linking two of the incidents you mention to this project is correct.

    “Ellie Carey was killed at the junction of Abbey Street and Tower Bridge Road, Southwark on Friday 2nd December 2011, by an HGV turning left. At the time, I remember hearing this was a lorry delivering glass to the Shard, but as with the lorry that killed David Vilaseca, I cannot find confirmation. Again, the direction of the lorry suggests the Shard as a possible destination.”

    It looks unlikely to me that the lorry was delivering glass to The Shard.

    The London Cycling Campaign have an image of the scene on Abbey Street, showing a closed-sided lorry.

    http://lcc.org.uk/articles/sixteenth-london-cyclist-fatality-in-2011-at-bermondsey-junction-identified-by-locals-as-dangerous

    Typically, glazing panels for The Shard have been delivered on open lorries. e.g.

    http://www.cybertects.co.uk/gallery2/v/architecture/london/shard/20110630_0012.jpg.html

    Indeed, in my observation, it has been true for most materials delivered to site. I watched a similar open articulated lorry delivered glazing panels to The Place building going up opposite the Shard on London Bridge Street a couple of days ago.

    It makes sense as closed sides and a fixed roof to the lorry make it much more difficult to unload in the tight confines of the Shard site – you can’t easily get a crane to it.

    One other incident that you mention is that of David Poblet.

    “David Poblet was killed at the junction of Tanner Street and Tooley Street in Bermondsey on 22nd March 2011 by a skip lorry heading to the Shard site.”

    Do you have a source for this? As the only story I can find connecting The Shard with the lorry in this incident is the one on this page.

    The blue skip lorry involved is not typical of vehicles I’ve seen entering or leaving The Shard site (indeed I can’t recall seeing a skip lorry of this kind at all and I’ve seen skips on the site very rarely).

    http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/5169

    http://lydall.standard.co.uk/2011/03/26-london-cyclists-die-under-lorries-in-four-years.html

    • Thanks for commenting, Rob. You’re right on the David Poblet incident – I am not certain of any connection in that case, and I’ve amended the piece appropriately.

      Regarding the Ellie Carey case, I’m not sure that the closed-sided lorry shown in that picture from the LCC site you supply is the one that was actually involved – the LCC reported that she was killed by an articulated lorry, which would match the description and photo of the lorries suppling glass that you give. (Of course that doesn’t mean that the articulated lorry in question was involved with the Shard construction).

      • Rob Telford says:

        Thanks for updating your report.

        There was an eyewitness post by Sharkstar on the ‘Rider down’ thread on LFGSS

        http://www.lfgss.com/post2552773-29.html

        > One of the incidents was at the bottom of my road, I walked past the site on the way
        > home. There was a broken bicycle at the end of Long Lane, at the Tower Bridge Rd
        > junction, and some kind of container lorry, a four-wheeler, pulled up in front of the
        > Sainsburys. I asked one of the many police at the scene what had happened and he
        > confirmed it was an HGV/cyclist incident.
        >
        > So sorry to hear of another avoidable death.

        I suppose it’s possible that an articulated lorry was involved and was moved from the scene before the bicycle, while another non-articulated lorry was detained behind the police line, but it seems unlikely.

        Also, with reference to David Vilaseca: I was unfortunate enough to pass the junction on the morning he met his death and was witness myself to the aftermath. The lorry was turning left from Druid Street to go southbound into Tower Bridge Road toward Bricklayers Arms, not the other way round.

        If you’re familiar with the junction, the London-SE1 report shows this to be the case http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/4337

        The Ghost Bike in memory of David was initially placed on that corner, although it was later moved across the other side of Tower Bridge Road and I’ve not seen it lately.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/cybertect/4480674707/

        The blue and yellow Middlebrook Transport lorry looks to be delivering steel to the adjacent The Place building site, like this one:

        http://www.cybertects.co.uk/gallery2/v/architecture/london/shard/nlbh/20120308_0031.jpg.html

        Personally, I’m extremely wary of *any* HGVs on the road, whatever their destination. Even then, I’m conscious that may not keep me safe.

  14. Brian Steel says:

    You live, you run the risk of dying, you step outside your house you increase your risk, you live in a major city like London the risk is dramatically increased again. It’s a sad way to go and a shame we can really only speculate on these things without accurate confirmation. As a betting man?.. Pfft no idea.. I’d only say I’ve seen more shite cyclists than I have lorry drivers.

    As a side-note the documentary was pretty rushed, so much missed out.. Not very accurate.

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