Northfleet: Opportunities for Opportunism

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Our thanks and copyright acknowledgements to Ian Bancroft for this atmospeheric shot of a Javelin Travelin [Eek! So soon after Proof-Reading Gate- JB] through the arches near Gravesend.

A new Crossrail logistics centre is to be built on the site of the old Lafarge/Blue Circle cement works at Northfleet. These pictures by Flickrist L2F1 show the old plant before its 2008 demolition. Tilbury Power Station to the North West can be seen across the Thames. Our thanks and copyright acknowledgements.





Our civil engineering friends are always ready to remind us that no two holes are the same, although they might present similar problems. One of these recurring problems is what to do with the material extracted from the ground. In many municipal parks in Britain, the lake often stands next to a handy but otherwise unexplained hill. Canals and railways traditionally re-used the spoil from tunnels and cuttings to build embankments. In the case of major railway developments, sometimes fate – in the guise of the Olympic Selection Committee – plays a part. The new Westfield shopping centre and associated developments in Stratford, built on the former “Railway Lands”, now stand on a base built from spoil extracted during the tunnelling of HS1 from Stratford to Kings Cross under the North London Line and from Ripple Lane to Stratford.

On the 4th August 2010, we reported on Crossrail’s intention to send their excavated material down river to Wallasea Island in the Crouch estuary to enlarge the wild life sanctuary there.

During the construction of Crossrail, a total of 7.3 million m³ of material will be excavated – the equivalent of covering the whole of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens with a three metre layer of soil. Close to 100% all of the 7.3 million m³ of excavated material is expected to be clean and uncontaminated and thus can be reused elsewhere.

Over 4 million m3 of the excavated material generated from construction of the new tunnels will be used by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to create a nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.

The proposals, which have been approved by Central Government and Essex County Council, will create one of the largest new wetland nature reserves in Europe for some 50 years.

The mud flat and salt marsh habitats created at Wallasea Island will act as a carbon sink and will soak up 2.2 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. In the region of 400 hectares of this habitat will be created.

A major element of this plan is now being put into place with the establishment of a major logistics base at the site of the old Lafarge/Blue Circle Cement works at Northfleet in Kent.

The Construction Index reports that:

Balfour Beatty has begun work on reinstating a rail link to an old cement works in north Kent so that Crossrail spoil can be transported there for recycling.

Site owner Lafarge has agreed a deal for Crossrail to lease land in Northfleet to use as a temporary tunnelling logistics facility.

The disused Lafarge industrial site in Northfleet is being redeveloped as part of the Thames Gateway development. Ultimately, the master plan for the 104-acre facility envisages a new riverside residential development.

The site has been chosen by Crossrail because it is located on the River Thames with deep water wharfage and links to the national rail network. The Crossrail project will send excavated material to the site for recycling. The site will receive, handling and tranship an estimated 1.5m tonnes of clean excavated material.

Balfour Beatty Rail is now reinstating the freight rail link into the Northfleet site. When completed, it will be used to bring the material excavated from the boring of the tunnels for Crossrail for processing on site and all reusable materials will be recycled.

Balfour Beatty Rail is providing all elements of the terminal and reconnection to the North Kent Lines, including design and construction of civil engineering works, track, signalling, telecoms and M&E. Commissioning for the project is scheduled for 1st Feb 2012.

The length of the rail link is around 2.25km and in total 4.75km of new track will be installed.

The availability of a rail linked riverside site is critical to the success of Crossrail’s logistics. It marks a new albeit temporary chapter in the history of the construction industry in Gravesend and north Kent. Fellow blogger, and Gravesend businessman, Glen took the opportunity to examine this history in detail in Kent Today and Yesterday when the factory site was cleared of the two landmark chimneys that had dominated the south Thames-side skyline for over half a century. To support his article he also took a number of fascinating pictures for which we offer our thanks and copyright acknowledgements.



Glen’s first picture is a wooden model kept in the Chantry Heritage Centre in Gravesend. As he points out at some point the model has been damaged as one of the landmark chimneys is missing. The extensive balloon loop railway connection enabled the segregation of inbound from outbound materials, although as Glen points out the deep sea jetty and slurry pipelines were pipelines were also used – indeed this is the plant that responsible for the water in the Blue-water shopping development.

Workers recall the railway line coming into the factory through the tunnel to the east, and dropping coal into an automated conveyor system on the east side of the clinker building. They then went anticlockwise round the factory and exited through the tunnel on the west side. Shift workers were allowed to park their cars on the factory side of the rail line but occasionally the train would arrive at shift changeover and block the workers in as there was only one car crossing point, compounded by the trains moving very slowly as they unloaded.

This loop originally connected to the North Kent line between Swanscombe and Northfleet, a stretch of line that has changed dramatically following the construction of the connection of the HS1/North Kent Line connector in at Ebbsfleet which opened in November 2007, as can be seen in the background of Portemolitor’s picture.

Our thanks and copyright acknowledgements to Portemolitor for the use of this image

In common with many areas now in within the London travel to work area, the initial stimulus to trade in the local economy was the demand for market garden produce by medieval London’s burgeoning population. The area was already well known as pilgrims tramped through, exchanging saucy anecdotes, on their way to Canterbury, and before roads improved the Thames was the major transport artery. With the coming of the industrial revolution, in addition to a further increases demand for food resulting in Kent becoming “the Garden of England”, an almost equally insatiable demand for construction materials arose. Just as the clay-fields of Bedfordshire gave rise to the eponymous London Brick Company so Gravesham become a natural focus for cement, and in particular, the higher value Portland cement.

Glen’s next pictures show the silos and the two signature chimneys, parts of the major pieces of industrial infrastructure on the site.





Finally cleared in March 2010, Lafarge together with Gravesham Council and the now abolished South East Development Agency put together plans for the site to turn over to residential use as part of the Thames Gateway Development Programme. Lafarge also plan to build an aggregate import terminal utilising the deep water jetty, employing 100 people. Indeed if Lafarge get the on-going use of the rail link paid for by Crossrail, they seem to have made a good deal.

Crossrail has, to some extent, been lucky in that the recession has slowed down development of sites in the region enabling the elbow room to execute this opportunistic reuse of railway resources. We have asked Glen, something of a rail enthusiast himself, to keep an eye on developments for us.

In terms of opportunistic recycling – what could happen to the re-laid track-bed after the Crossrail spoil is all shipped? Could the refurbished link form part of an emergency turn-back facility on the North Kent Line? Could there even be a link to a new park and ride station in the regenerated Northfleet Thames-side complex of which the Lafarge development will be an element? Could this relieve cutting constrained Gravesend? .Would it boost this site’s, and those adjacent to it, development prospects? You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment but you may already have.

If not now is your chance.

Written by Mwmbwls