08:00PM, Tuesday 26 May 2020
The Watermark development in York Road
Just as the coronavirus lockdown struck, Maidenhead was in the midst of an ambitious regeneration programme. Various developments are on course to change the face of the town, bringing thousands of new homes and jobs. But the COVID-19 crisis has pressed pause on the world. Reporter Kieran Bell spoke to some of the developers working in Maidenhead about how the virus has impacted on their work and what the future holds for the town’s new look.
“Despite the challenging circumstances, the housing shortage we face has not altered and there is still demand for new homes.”
The coronavirus crisis has changed the way we go about our normal lives in almost every way.
We are all being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, only leave the house for specific reasons, and most of us are working remotely.
But what about the army of people building hundreds of new homes across Maidenhead?
The way they go about their work may have changed, but their overall mission remains the same – putting Maidenhead on the map.
The town has, for some time now, been at the centre of a mass regeneration programme, with ambitious plans for homes, green spaces and shops underway.
The Landing, Chapel Arches and Watermark are just some of the developments we have all been hearing about.
Those who have ventured down York Road recently would no doubt have seen the progress on the latter – carried out by developer Countryside.
A total of 229 new homes, alongside community spaces and food outlets on the banks of Maidenhead waterways, will soon be in place.
But the coronavirus pandemic has affected procedures, as Dan King, Countryside managing director, explained.
“With the health and safety of our workers and those near our sites a priority, works stopped from April 1, 2020,” he said.
“We are now restarting limited and phased operations on our construction sites only where it is safe to do so, and Watermark is part of this programme.”
Construction sites were, in fact, not asked to close at all by Government when the original lockdown measures were announced – as long as work was carried out ‘safely’.
Fast forward to May, and those in the construction industry are part of a group Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ‘actively encouraging’ to go back to work.
Dan continued: “We have developed a new set of ‘standard operating procedures’ based on guidance from the Construction Leadership Council, which are designed to allow the safe operation of sites whilst complying with Government and Public Health England guidance on social distancing.
“We have introduced a site compliance officer to monitor adherence to our procedures.
“The safety of everyone on our sites is our utmost priority and, as this health emergency continues to evolve, we will be keeping these measures under close review.”
Early in the Watermark project, it was estimated that work would be completed by 2024.
Dan acknowledged that these targets will have to be looked at again – but new homes are not far off.
“We are reviewing the completion dates for all phases due to decreased production and the impact of social distancing measures,” Dan said.
“The first new homes will be completed early next year and available to purchase later this year.”
With the virus putting lots into perspective, Dan was confident that people’s appetite for new homes and open spaces will not change post-pandemic.
“Despite the challenging circumstances, the housing shortage we face has not altered and there is still demand for new homes,” he explained.
“Home buyers are no longer looking for a house, but well-designed homes within a community.
“They want green open spaces, community facilities and public amenities nearby, and that’s why developments such as Watermark stand out.”
Across town, Shanly Homes has been busy constructing the three-phase Chapel Arches scheme by Maidenhead Waterways - which will bring 259 homes, and more than 30,000 square foot of shops, restaurants, cafes and offices.
The first two phases – called Chapel Wharf and The Picturehouse – are done in Bridge Street.
The final project – Waterside Quarter – was initially due to be completed from 2021, just off Crown Lane.
Works here, too, have been delayed by ‘several weeks’ but Shanly managing director Stewart Kirk was hopeful of being back to normal soon.
“We were fortunate to be able to continue the final excavation of the last basement area just as lockdown measures were announced,” he said.
“The majority of this work has been carried out by machines and loading lorries, which meant we could limit our crew to minimal numbers to maintain social distancing.”
He added: “We have a clear policy on social distancing, cleanliness and maintaining a safe working environment and have implemented strict guidelines on numbers of staff on site, even now we have been allowed to reopen.
“We will be working closely with our contractors and suppliers to maintain a safe working environment.
“Works across our sites have been delayed by several weeks, taking into consideration the lack of material deliveries and long lead times.
“We hope to be back up to normal capacity levels and helping buyers find their dream home as soon as is safely possible.”
Similarly, those in charge of The Landing – a development from developer HUB – say that safety is ‘top priority’.
This scheme will bring 424 homes, 100,000 sq ft of office space, and 40,000 sq ft of retail and leisure on the triangle of Queen Street, King Street and Broadway.
The completion date was originally estimated to be around 2022/23.
HUB managing director Damien Sharkey said his firm remains ‘committed’ to carrying out the project.
He said: “At this stage of the project, we are working on detailed design and talking to contractors about the next phase of work.
“Of course, the pandemic is affecting the construction industry in various ways.
“While the government has encouraged construction workers to return to site, safety is always the top priority for our building sites, and we now need to ensure everything possible is done to keep everyone secure and healthy.
“So, we are also looking at ensuring safe ways of working and reviewing construction methods, materials and health and safety method statements.
“We remain committed to delivering The Landing, which we know is so important to re-energising Maidenhead town centre.”
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