The giant rises from the Fens

CHRIS BISHOP You can see the cranes from miles away but you only appreciate the true scale of the engineering feat going on deep in the Fens when you look over the flood bank.

CHRIS BISHOP

You can see the cranes from miles away but you only appreciate the true scale of the engineering feat going on deep in the Fens when you look over the flood bank.

A new £50m pumping station is being built on the Middle Level Drain at St Germans, near King's Lynn.

When it comes on stream in 2010, it will replace the 70-year-old sluice and pumps which protect 24,000 homes and tens of thousands of hectares from flooding.

Engineers are building a giant coffer dam, a massive metal box enclosing an area of riverbed the size of a soccer pitch. Don Lamont, project manager with contactors Atkins, said when complete it would be the biggest of its kind in the country.

By the New Year it will be pumped dry so work can begin on the foundations of the new sluice and pumping station, with more than 400 piles driven 50ft into the mud to anchor it against everything flood and tide can throw at it.

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Work on the project was delayed by a planning wrangle over whether or not a haul road could be built to carry construction traffic across the open fen, rather than routing HGVs and plant through nearby villages.

“We're seven months behind schedule, so we've gone from the good weather of summer to the start of the winter,” said Mr Lamont. “The wind is a problem for us.”

Yesterday workers battled gales and driving rain to extend the sides of the coffer dam. The Middle Level Drain has been diverted around the dam and when work begins on the foundations of the new pumping station, workers will be piling and pouring concrete 15 or 20ft below the high tide mark.

Mr Lamont said the new station was scheduled for completion in 2009. Its six pumps - which replace the current four - will become operational by 2010. Once the new pumps become operational, the current station, built in the 1930s, will be demolished.

Iain Smith, chief executive of the Middle Level Commissioners, said the new pumping station would be the biggest in Britain and the second-biggest in Europe when complete.

“All the water that falls on the Middle Level, which stretches to the west of the A1, comes through here,” he said. “If it's raining in Sawtry, it ends up here.”

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