Leicester Square flagship project inspires worksite innovation

Leicester Square

Innovative ways to replace massive underground equipment without disrupting communities are set to be copied from UK Power Networks’ recent Leicester Square substation upgrade.

The firm used a ‘megalift’ self-loading trailer for the first time to reduce each new transformer’s delivery time by four weeks and achieved new heights of community engagement by working closely with local business and community groups to offer them insights into the project’s progress.

This included working with businesses to design interactive hoardings, sharing video updates and hosting underground tours for about 150 visitors. A youth training scheme was also run to help lift 16–19-year-olds and their families out of fuel poverty with the national ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Both ways of working proved so successful in the £15 million flagship project, that project managers across the company’s sites in London, East and South East will now use them where possible in the future. Similar hoardings are already being designed at a new East Ham project to protect, communicate and educate, and larger investment schemes now use video updates and QR codes to keep communities informed.

Engineers from UK Power Networks have worked with alliance partner Clancy to finish the two-year upgrade this month ahead of schedule and budget. The project replaced three 60MW, 132,000V transformers, which were originally installed under Leicester Square in 1991. They weigh 100t each and are the size of a shipping container, providing enough energy to power an area the size of Brighton. More than 250,000 people visit Leicester Square daily and the company worked with the Heart of London Business Alliance (HOLBA), the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), and Westminster City Council to help ensure business and tourism could continue and flourish.

Ros Morgan, Chief Executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, says, “UK Power Networks has been working hand in hand with HOLBA to plan the works around business needs from the outset. With the aim of minimising the impact as much as possible for our members, UK Power Networks took advantage of lockdown, advancing the works as much as possible during this period and reducing the work schedule from three to two years. This infrastructure investment is critical to building a brighter future for this great city.”

Jason Gunning, Project Manager at UK Power Networks, says, “Capital projects don’t get much more sensitive than this, replacing three 100t transformers underneath the heart of London needed to not impact theatre goers, numerous businesses, architecture, and some very precious trees. To add to this, a pandemic made our protecting workers in confined spaces difficult.

“Extraordinary planning, care, ingenuity, an innovative and seamless approach to on-site work and community collaboration was the recipe for success and we are sharing this so that colleagues and the industry can adopt similar methods.

“This project was successfully achieved in two years not three, giving Leicester Square increased resilience and energy capacity for decades to come, and serving one of the UK’s most heavily populated and congested areas.”

Neil Byrne, Contracts Manager at The Clancy Group, adds, “The Leicester Square project showcased excellent engineering, customer engagement and overcame logistical challenges required to replace the major infrastructure in this iconic location.”

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