Steve Jackson

In 2020, the revenue target for Soilfix by 2024 was £12m turnover. At the end of 2022, it was £10.35m and it is on course for £15m at the end of this year.

"Part of the reason for the rapid growth are some decent sized foundation projects like Fulham Gasworks and Tipner East in Portsmouth, " says Soilfix director Steve Jackson. "Post-pandemic a lot of projects were delayed like Tipner East and shunted to the year after, and then there was a perfect storm of project starts with secured order books to this year."

The housebuilding slowdown has not unduly affected Soilfix. Project by turnover is 40% private housebuilders, 40% affordable housing and 20% industrial and commercial. "The larger projects are redevelopment projects. Two of our best clients, Berkeley Homes and Cala Homes in England, are high end housebuilders and demand is still good on these developments."

Soilfix is a very much a multidisciplinary firm covering demolition, enabling works, soil and groundwater treatment, waste treatment and materials management. "There’s roughly an even split between all of them, varying from year to year. We’ve done some above ground demolition, but most demolition is brownfield site preparation."

But although Covid is over, the challenges don’t go away. An example of the hiatus it caused is provided by Tipner East - Phase 3, which was finally brought forward for redevelopment. A registered provider is taking on the site and has planning for 850 homes. The acquisition triggered the process. It’s a long running scheme. We helped the client with procurement and planning certainty. It started in Autumn when the heaviest rain I have ever seen came down. The whole site flooded, and there were high tides. It is a Ramsar Site of Special Scientific Interest with buried barges at the foreshore. Working with tides is a challenge."

At the largest job, the Imperial Gasworks at Fulham, which is worth £10m to Soilfix, it is currently engaged on an 80,000m3 materials management excavation, sorting and digging up a large basement. "The site is extremely busy with lots of construction contractors. It is an 1800-unit high end development in west London with lots of design changes and things like unforeseen fibre optic cables and other construction priorities. Now we are underway with basement piling."

"Another recent challenge was the landfill remediation at Burgess Hill in Sussex and negotiating Definition of Waste Code of Practice (DoWCoP). "It was one of the last landfills successfully developed and meeting the suitable for use specification for DoWCoP. It would have been undeveloped unless the spine road and infrastructure was re-engineered to unlock 3500 new homes. There was comprehensive modular processing, with waste screened and handpicked, stabilisation of fines to re-engineer into a very cohesive material. We conditioned it to remove the waste. There was a lot of leachate treatment. We managed to reuse a significant portion and the waste went for recovery."

During Covid, there were thoughts of diversifying into road, rail, and energy infrastructure projects, but Jackson says: "We haven’t pursued those purposely, but we have made good inroads with energy sector clients. We completed one project last year and there’s another in the pipeline. They are remediation projects with old power facilities being repurposed with substations and converter stations. We remediate hydrocarbons and asbestos in soils.

"With a power sector project last Autumn, we used chemox stabilisation and solidification and worked with Peroxychem – using sodium sulphate activated by cementitious grout so you get a good mix with the soil, and it degrades and solidifies in a monolith. We went from bench scale to full scale. The reaction is in-situ, and it breaks down the hydrocarbons and after three days any residual hydrocarbons are locked in. The client stipulated any treated materials had to be non-hazardous."


Soilfix, like any company in construction, has had to face rapid cost inflation over the last 18 months. "In 2022 the market was really affected. We didn’t take too much of a hit on our fuel contract, but on one project we did. Costs for quick lime and cement for stabilisation work were increasing every month. It is levelling out now, and fuel costs are coming down. On another project there was a risk on the fuel price increase, but it got delayed. In some in-situ projects we are using electric not gas and it has made a bit of difference. The biggest energy cost inflation is fuel for yellow plant."

"A perennial problem for the remediation industry has been lack of regulators which represents a constriction on the business. It is a very mixed bag. We are beholden to the local area Environment Agency office and whether they discuss it nationally. We are not seeing it improving. We need to see more clarity in the direction of travel. We are waiting to see how DoWCoP works out. One comprehensive landfill remediation and re-engineering job should have started by now, but it has been delayed until 2024. The permit application was last year – and now the project won’t start until early next year."

And another issue besetting the industry planning delays: "On certain schemes not all green belt land is clean. There is a project we’ve been looking at for several years in the allocated green belt, but it is an old landfill. The client lobbied the local authority to get it reallocated out of green belt – then the council changed hands and changed the local plan – and it is still in green belt. There’s 20 acres of space for a mixed-use development, which could have been used productively rather than burnt-out cars and it is now sitting as a landfill and a risk to human health until the green belt status changes.

"There are also delays through planning. One project for new homes on a former gasworks has been delayed 15 months waiting for planning pre-commencement conditions to be discharged. Contamination conditions have already been discharged, but we can’t start. We are still waiting on drainage clearance."

Landfill tax

"We took part in the consultation on landfill tax being brought back in. I am on the fence on this. It depends how it is carried out. A landfill tax exemption can discourage sustainable materials management. We don’t want to put it on the back of a lorry again but with certain sites where removing material offsite is unavoidable material not amenable to be treated. It may make certain sites commercially viable rather than just sitting there. But is it passing the problem on? I’m more against it than for it."

However, things are changing, albeit gradually. "We are only just seeing circular economy principles in major schemes – in London. On one project circular economy objectives were put into planning, with 90-95% recovery and reuse including new buildings. It ties in with our materials management approach. The project has been delayed and we are waiting to see whether they adhere to the objective with materials management and recycling and recovery. Circular economy objectives are in the Greater London Authority (GLA) guidance."

Carbon calculations

Another change has been more sophistication in carbon emissions analysis: "With the Soilfix Carbon Calculator we have done more projects and can assess predictions versus actual. At Fulham – on the first half of the job – we could demonstrate significant reductions (predicted to actual) on how we managed the material and where to send the materials for segregation. It involved texting and liaison with the waste treatment facility. We got a closer facility, minimised landfill, and sent segregated non-hazardous material to a railhead.

"For the first part of the 28 weeks work, the prediction was 860t, but the actual was 285t. We showed a demonstrable reduction of about 70% - with more sustainable removal offsite and reducing haulage distances. At Fulham, Berkeley is investing in us, using Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil – more expensive but cost differential is going down. They wrote it into a tender specification to use hybrid, or electric plant or biofuels and it saved 280t.

"Calculating the amount of carbon saved can drive the design or we can do optioneering. With version 2 of the Carbon Calculator there’s now a greater range of materials for stabilisation and soil condition and routes for hazardous and non-hazardous treatment and features like offside bioremediation and soil washing."

And in terms of Soilfix’s journey to net zero: "We have a bi-annual carbon footprint assessment to measure our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. We are on target to meet it. Next time we have a full change of plant and vehicles in the next 2-3 years it will be hybrid or electric. We need to switch fully over to meet our targets. With quicklime and cement the Carbon Calculator showed that their carbon footprint is significant, and we are carrying out trials on alternatives and recycled products – our own solutions. They will be used this year at Tipner East. Reducing soils can mean saving on haulage – but using lime and cement still adds to the footprint."

Soilfix now has 48 permanent staff up from 36 a year ago. Jackson says: "We are less concerned about getting qualified staff than a couple of years ago. Getting technical staff was a challenge – remediation engineers and scientists, as well as project managers. But we’ve invested in graduates and apprenticeships, as well as investing in existing staff with career development and training – a step up. When the business grows – there are opportunities for everyone to grow and we are reaping the benefits."

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