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Author Topic: The end of an era - or at least a gas holder  (Read 1062 times)
stuving
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« on: January 23, 2021, 08:12:45 pm »

SGN have been given approval (planning application number 201269) to take down the last of the gas holders in the centre of Reading (at Kennet Bridge). It was number 4 - for no obvious reason, even when you read the site history among the copious documentation with the application. Its two neighbours came down a while back, and the two newer ones across the Kennet were razed in 2015-6.

Trains go by close to it (especially on the Waterloo line), and the picture shows it from the old station footbridge. It's not easy to see from the new station, and new buildings and the obscured windows mean it is getting even harder to see. While some will be sad to a familar landmark go, it's hard to justify keeping it, especially to whoever owns the land. Not an easy thing to repurpose for any use of value, and once it gets so rusty it might fall down it can no longer just be left alone.
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stuving
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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2021, 12:24:57 am »

I said the document set was copious, and so it is - though a bit less so than it looks, since the 257-page methods document includes a lot of others as appendices. It is, however, likely to be useful to anyone who happens to have an old gas holder cluttering up their garden and wondered how to get rid if it.

On thing I can't see much about is contamination of the ground, which is a surprise. Gas works are notorious for leaking nasty liquids into the ground, and making the ground fit to build houses on usually calls for thorough washing. They say they won't break up the hard surfacing at all, just remove all the water and sludge from the pit under the gas holder and fill it up. Could it be that remediation for a future use will be the developer's responsibility? Some of the demolition documents include plans of the housing  proposed, so the future of the site is already decided (subject to planning).

And it turns out that there was an earlier planning application (190627) for the whole redevelopment including the demolition, but that part has now been taken separately (and done by SGN not the developer). There is indeed a "Geo-environmental Site Assessment" by WSP that is mainly about contamination - 715 pages of it! And even then it doesn't choose any remediation plan - it recommends a further ground investigation. To be fair, the original survey was for continued commercial use, not housing. And the Environment Agency suggest any decision should insist on such an approach.

There is also a study by SGN into how the thing might be retained if its cuteness won't allow its removal. Evidently they didn't convince themselves or RBC it was worth it. And loads of comments, mostly agin it (as usual).

One important step in the demolition plan (but with no fixed timing) is putting up a 30 m tall pole. Or rod? In this case, it's described as a "Peregrine Falcon Perch", for which WSP have provided a draft specification (with details of the perch box).

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CyclingSid
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« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2021, 08:56:13 am »

Presumably not considered viable to do a conversion like the one on the Regents Canal.
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bobm
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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2021, 09:39:46 am »

As a child I lived within walking distance of the gas holders in Reading and on occasions my father would drink in a pub by the canalside while we fed the ducks or watched the trains go by.

During the brief time it was possible last year I took a trip back.







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stuving
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« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2021, 10:06:17 am »

Presumably not considered viable to do a conversion like the one on the Regents Canal.

There is - inevitably - a document about that. Basically, its landmark status depends on its current site, and it's currently only a framework. If replaced by a solid building it would be too massive, and if left empty too expensive of land for the site revenue to recover (unlike Kings Cross). And it's not listed as of historical significance - it's Edwardian and of a standard design.

I had a look at the listing for "The Triplet", now "Gasholders" by St Pancras Dock. This describes its building at what is now Pancras Square, but with no map or pictures (or links) for its original setting. I guess it's listed as an engineering structure, not for its surroundings. It also dates its dismantling to 2001, while Google Earth shows it was long gone by then as the extension of St Pancras Station northwards (towards France?) got underway.
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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2021, 05:39:25 pm »


On thing I can't see much about is contamination of the ground, which is a surprise. Gas works are notorious for leaking nasty liquids into the ground, and making the ground fit to build houses on usually calls for thorough washing. They say they won't break up the hard surfacing at all, just remove all the water and sludge from the pit under the gas holder and fill it up. Could it be that remediation for a future use will be the developer's responsibility? Some of the demolition documents include plans of the housing  proposed, so the future of the site is already decided (subject to planning).

Gas making did generate a large amount of toxic biproducts, this was compounded in the 1960's when we moved away from Town Gas to Natural Gas, when the retort house, gas cleaners, cold tar storage etc was decommissioned all or the asbestos and other toxic waste was dumped into the decommissioned gas holder tank wells, some of the holders were used purely for cleaning and cooling and storage as such.

National Grid which now own these sites cannot just pass a contaminated site onto a new owner; and example of what is done is Southall Gas works, National Grid join with a developer, Berkley Homes in the case at Southall.   The deal is National Grid get to dispose of the land the cost of decontamination is covered by the profit from the property sales plus NG also gain some money in the process

The demo of the holder No4 is the first stage, the clearing of the ground of contamination will be dependent on planning consent
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2021, 09:02:35 pm »

For more on the gasworks and gas supply in Reading see

https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/blog/goodbye-gasholders

The Peregrine Falcon platform has been provided because the old gas holder was chosen as a nest site by a pair. Sometimes I have seen them over or around the station (but not recently).

The position regarding remediation of the contamination is that the starting point is that liability lies with the polluter - here probably NG as successor to British Gas who in turn acquired the assets, undertakings and liabilities of the old town gas companies on nationalisation. Sometimes liability is passed on by agreement to the developer, but it should be the case that they will have to satisfy statutory authorities that satisfactory remediation has been completed to both render the new development safe to occupy and to safeguard against the future leakage of contaminants, sometimes involving very expensive removal, so as to discharge planning conditions and (in the case of residential development) to satisfy the building guarantee company (like the NHBC) to enable the new homes to be sold by satisfying the requirements of mortgage lenders.

Not all the "nasty bits" were buried on site. Nearly 30 years ago I was involved with a filled quarry site outside a substantial southern town which (after filling) was used by a contracting company as a depot. The company became insolvent, but its receivers discovered when preparing to sell it that the remains of the town's gasworks were buried underneath, and there was a river nearby into which who knows what might be seeping.

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stuving
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2021, 11:18:43 pm »

The peregrines are reported to have been roosting, but not nesting. Quite likely there's no big enough flat surface for a nest.

I'm not sure when the distribution networks were separated off for regulation as a distinct entity, but it must have been before 1996. Coal gas production and storage was I think always local, and the national transmission network only arrived with natural gas. I found an NGN report saying they had a regulatory target to demolish 23 of their 47 remaining holders by 2020

So when the local GDN was acquired by SSE (creating SGN), it does not look like any residual liabilities were left with BG/NG/Lattice/Transco. I think the developers shoulder the contamination liability (after agreed work by SGN, and for a consideration) since they will in any case have to do so in any contract of sale. Since these are all flats, the may not be sold freehold anyway.

The Environment Agency don't seem keen to see the whole site dug up and washed. I think being next to the Kennet makes a big difference here, and leaching into the river is the biggest concern. Hence for example they ask for a condition that no surface water disposal by infiltration is to be allowed. But this isn't likely to be one of the worst sites, as this gas works wasn't built until after 1880 and in any case that was under the houses already built and up this end was just gas holders.
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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2021, 07:00:45 am »

When they built housing on the rest of the old Reading gas works they spent a considerable time on site preparation. I don't know how much they took away and dumped elsewhere.
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eXPassenger
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« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2021, 09:13:57 am »

Quote
I'm not sure when the distribution networks were separated off for regulation as a distinct entity, but it must have been before 1996. Coal gas production and storage was I think always local, and the national transmission network only arrived with natural gas. I found an NGN report saying they had a regulatory target to demolish 23 of their 47 remaining holders by 2020

In the South West, and I assume elsewhere, there was an intermediate phase.  Coal based town gas works were closed and replaced by oil based plants at Avonmouth (Seabank) and Plymouth (Breakwater) with a regional gas transmission system.  Seabamk is now a CCGT power station.
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stuving
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« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2021, 01:59:35 pm »

Quote
I'm not sure when the distribution networks were separated off for regulation as a distinct entity, but it must have been before 1996. Coal gas production and storage was I think always local, and the national transmission network only arrived with natural gas. I found an NGN report saying they had a regulatory target to demolish 23 of their 47 remaining holders by 2020

In the South West, and I assume elsewhere, there was an intermediate phase.  Coal based town gas works were closed and replaced by oil based plants at Avonmouth (Seabank) and Plymouth (Breakwater) with a regional gas transmission system.  Seabamk is now a CCGT power station.

Yes, the distribution network must have been built up over a long period, starting with supply to nearby towns and villages and moving gas works out of city centres. I expected any switch from coal to oil as feedstock to be quite late, but it turns out it was later than I thought. In fact, starting in 1964 for Seabank and 1966 for Breakwater, both ran for only ten years before being shut down in favour of natural gas.

Obviously very specific information like that must come from somewhere, and (thanks to Google and the interweb) that source is a little magazine called Historic Gas Times, from the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers. Just one issue - the 100th - is available free, and by chance contains a history of the growth of the industry and infrastructure into the South Western Gas Board.
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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2021, 02:56:29 pm »

Here https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/d1078240-ba49-4b90-9298-bb7f30968196 is a history of UXBRIDGE, MAIDENHEAD, WYCOMBE & DISTRICT GAS COMPANY, the article shows how the Town Gas networks evolved from 1895 and into privatisation.

Its clear that local companies merged and concentrated gas making at a number of key sites obviously for efficiency, it does show that Towns across quite a large area were networked.
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« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2021, 06:52:56 am »

There is a planned exhibition (subject to the various current problems) at the Riverside Museum part of Reading Museum in September of artworks related to the gas holder.
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