What Lies Beneath

After an afternoon spent revelling in dust and dirt twenty metres below the Capital, PR and construction journalist Andy Pearson is reminded why the industry is so exciting to work for and to write about. 

A short while ago I was fortunate to have been one of a group of journalists given a guided tour of the tunnelling works underway beneath London's Oxford Street as part of the upgrade of Bond Street Underground Station. The £320m scheme for Transport for London involves construction of a new station entrance north of Oxford Street, a new escalator hall, new lifts and improvements to circulation routes. It also includes construction of a pedestrian link to the new Crossrail station currently under construction south of the underground station.


Twenty metres beneath one of the world's most prestigious retail destinations, a 90-strong team has been toiling night and day in the arc-lit gloom to drive 500m of new tunnels through the subterranean tangle of underground lines, existing pedestrian tunnels, sewers and utilities that clutter the ground beneath the capital. It is an enormously challenging and remarkable construction project. 

Equally impressive are the logistics that have enabled the site to operate continuously. Workers, materials, tunnelling plant, drainage, site waste, even the fresh air - everything in fact needed to keep the labyrinthine site operational 24 hours a day seven days a week - has had to be piped or craned up or down two 9m diameter access shafts. It is the infrastructure equivalent of building an extension to your home by bringing all the materials in and waste out through your letter box. 

The Bond Street Underground Station upgrade is a project that encapsulates everything that makes construction such an exciting and worthwhile industry to be a part of. The project is not simply about muck and dirt and getting things done regardless, it's also about working as a team to solve challenging and often unique problems; it's about ensuring a safe working environment for all, even in the most challenging of locations; and it's about improving the built environment and creating a legacy for the future.

If this project captures everything good about construction it also serves to highlight one of the biggest challenges faced by construction companies namely that almost all of this amazing work takes place out of sight from the public - either behind giant hoardings or deep underground. In the case of this project, the only clue the jostle of shoppers crowding Oxford Street have as to the subterranean site's presence is a small site hoarding decorated with London Underground roundels. The public will never know, for example, that some of the new tunnels have been excavated so close to the tops of the Central Line platform tunnels that they had to be dug by hand, using traditional mining techniques, to ensure the tunnels were not damaged.

I think the public would be amazed if they knew only half of the challenges that have had to be overcome on this project. On re-emerging after my visit it was all I could do to restrain myself from accosting shoppers to tell them about the amazing work going on beneath their feet, which might explain why I work in construction PR. More importantly, this concealed project demonstrates what a great story constructors often have to tell and why contractors need PR to help them shout loudly about their amazing achievements.

Posted by Andy Pearson