This month, our regional spotlight feature falls on the work of the ECA and its members operating in the South East

South East stays on track for growth

The South East ECA region has seen substantial economic, employment and housing growth in the past year – despite the general economic downturn – thanks to the completion of stage two of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, writes Howard Salmon, ECA South East regional manager.

The much-publicised second stage of the project, which links St Pancras Station with the tunnel, together with the recent opening of Ebbsfleet in Dartford, Kent, as a new international station, has led to new jobs and a welcome boost to the local economy.

Meanwhile, the Thames Gateway project, the largest single regeneration initiative in north-west Europe, is also having a positive impact on the region.

The project encompasses an area of land stretching for 40 miles from London across the south-east and east of England, which has been designated for urban regeneration. It promises around 160 000 homes and 180 000 jobs for the area by 2016.

Elsewhere in the region, there are contracts aplenty. In Ashford, Kent, there are major long-term plans to create 31 000 homes and 28 000 jobs, while extensive regeneration work is being undertaken in Hastings, East Sussex. This involves the redevelopment of Priory Meadow shopping complex, Hastings College and the University Centre Hastings, together with new road links and rail improvements.

Although the recent slowdown experienced by many housebuilders is having a knock-on effect on electrical contractors who specialise in housing, overall new-builds across the south east have soared over the past 10 years.

Project file

1. RME walking on air

Farnham, Surrey-based RME Services was official electrical contractor for the 2008 Farnborough International Air Show, a high-profile week-long event that attracts more than 260 000 visitors.

The project relied on detailed planning to ensure absolute security of supplies and safety. The contract was of particular interest this year, as the 17th Edition of the Wiring Regulations is the first to incorporate requirements specifically for exhibitions.

RME provided temporary electrical power supplies for exhibitors as well as support facilities including lighting, general power and fire alarms.

Mike Brown of RME says: “We had to carefully design and monitor load flow to ensure that all distribution substations and their circuits operated below maximum capacity. This involved an extensive survey of the existing network to record details and characteristics.”

2. Ship shape

ECA member Jascom Electrical Contractors has played a part in the regeneration of one of Kent’s most popular tourist attractions. Having been closed to the public for more than 20 years, No 3 covered slip at the Historic Dockyard Chatham is open once more.

Built 170 years ago for the construction and repair of warships, this grade I-listed building was once the largest timber-span structure of its kind in Europe. Jascom installed the lighting, fire alarm and power inside the covered slip, which has now reopened as a new museum store called 3 Slip - The Big Store.

The building’s m&e facelift has enabled it to house a collection of heavyweight naval and military hardware.

3. Bexhill illuminations

Earlier this year, Hannington-Gilbert & Co finished a lighting project for Rother District Council as part of a larger campaign to renovate coastal areas along Bexhill seafront.

The company, based in Hastings, East Sussex, was contracted to design and install low-cost, energy-efficient facade lighting to enhance the features of Bexhill’s museum, clock tower and colonnade – three iconic structures erected in the early 1900s.

The project was funded by a grant from the European Union under the framework of its Interreg programme. Discretely placed energy-saving lighting was commissioned to illuminate the buildings at night while bringing out their texture and structural features. Subtly changing coloured lighting was used to enhance the colonnade.

Part of the council’s renovation project involved the repair and restoration of the antique clock mechanism and the four clock faces. Once the faces were restored to their former glory, Hannington-Gilbert back-lit each face using LEDs, and illuminated the six metre-high stone clock tower to create a seafront icon.

4. Testing times

A provision within the 17th Edition has enabled Kent contractor Frederick Thomas to launch an electrical testing division specialising in thermal imaging, ultrasonic testing and power quality analysis.

These technologies have long been used overseas, but they have not been recognised as an appropriate means of testing in the UK. However, the latest regulations allow them to be used in certain cases as an alternative to conventional testing methods.

Frederick Thomas has set up a team of technician-level trained electricians, dedicated to providing infrared, ultrasonic and power analysis testing.

Electrical director Derrick Charlesworth says: “The important point about these technologies is that they are non-invasive so there is no need to disconnect the system. They are also incredibly accurate and enable us to explain to customers exactly where and why their system is at fault.”

5. Carmel back to school

Epsom, Surrey-based Carmel Building Services is helping to create a new education centre at London’s 150-year-old Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

The ECA contractor is supplying and installing wiring, intelligent systems and alarm systems at the Sackler Centre for Arts Education, which includes a digital studio and a 140-seat auditorium. The centre is due to open this year.

The electrical project is being carried out for main contractor Allenbuild, and calls for linear light fittings and Selux built-in return air grilles, which will ensure heat generated by the lighting is recycled throughout the museum.

The project forms a key element within an ambitious 10-year programme to renovate and transform the V&A.

Second biggest region with 400 member companies

The ECA’s South East region has seen a substantial rise in membership over the past few years, particularly since the advent of Part P. With almost 400 member companies, it is now the second largest ECA region in the country.

Led by regional manager Howard Salmon, the region plays a key role in supporting its members from its base in Heathfield, East Sussex.

Seminars and training courses are well attended. Members benefit from advice on law, as well as on ECS health and safety assessments.

To strengthen its position as a champion of best practice in the south east, the region has developed strong links with the RICS and local authorities, as well as with wholesalers and manufacturers locally.

The ECA region covers Sussex, Kent, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex. Its five branches are Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne, Maidstone and East Kent, Tunbridge Wells and Surrey.