Simons Group - FSC Project
When, in 1894, Tom Spencer invested £300 in a business started by Michael Marks, little could the two entrepreneurs have dreamed how their Penny Bazaar partnership would develop.

And if the two businessmen could see the latest Marks & Spencer masterpiece which grew from that £300 ‘acorn’ – Cheshire Oaks, a 525,192 sq ft development, of which 148,000 sq ft is pure selling space – they would be justly proud.

The Marks & Spencer brand means quality, value, service, innovation and trust – key principles that have endured throughout the company’s long and distinguished history; principles which have driven the Cheshire Oaks development, close to Ellesmere Port in Cheshire.

Hailed as the biggest, greenest Marks & Spencer, its most enduring achievement may be the engineering boundaries that have been redefined during its construction, particularly in the use of wood.

From the outset, Marks & Spencer insisted that only FSC certified wood could be used in the project in line with its Plan A commitment. This presented a challenge for the development contractor, Simons Group, as the scheme involved a huge amount of engineered timber, not typically seen as an FSC certified product. After meeting with Exova BM TRADA to clarify the criteria required under FSC Project certification, Simons Group decided to take this route.

Simons Group and their suppliers pressed ahead, working hard to meet Marks & Spencer expectations and FSC Project certification requirements, and in July 2012, as Cheshire Oaks approached completion, Exova BM TRADA awarded full FSC Project certification (TT-PRO-003615).

The certification covered wood used at every stage of construction – and there’s an awful lot of wood in Cheshire Oaks, of varying types and from a myriad of sources. The roof contains 1400m3 of glulam; Canadian Western Red Cedar graces the external cladding and the brise soleil, certified wood forms the modular walling carcasses and laminated veneered lumber in the structural flooring. Then there’s all the general internal joinery timber, feature benches made from recycled oak sourced from the site clearance and even bat and bird boxes dotted about the site are made from recycled FSC certified off cuts. Exova BM TRADA was present at each key stage of the development to confirm traceability of the timber.

Cheshire Oaks claims to be the first retail building in the UK to have an entirely FSC structural frame, developed in conjunction with B&K Timber Structures, a departure from the traditional steel design and a challenge to the glulam market. As a result, glulam is now more readily available.

The sweeping roof structure, comprising curved glulam beams each up to 15 metres long and secured with gleaming steel bolts, is a wondrous creation, and its beauty belies its strength.

All products used in the timber-frame structure were 3D modelled, to ensure the design was fully integrated before any manufacturing started, and ensured minimum of waste materials.

It’s hard to imagine, but Ed Dixon, Sustainability Champion for Simons Group, said every single one of the glulam beams in the store fitted perfectly.

“No re-cuts, no shaving – they were pieced together perfectly – like a massive Meccano set,” he said.

“It was built by hand by guys on cherry-pickers using a huge rubber hammer and oversized spanner so physically, it was very demanding and labour-intensive, but the results speak for themselves.”

Of the many lessons learned along this journey, as far as ensuring the FSC Project certification processes were in place, Dixon stressed the importance of engaging in the process to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and define the objectives from the outset.

In terms of sustainability, it is easy to wax lyrical about Cheshire Oaks, but fundamental to the project’s success, said Dixon, was working with Exova BM TRADA professionals, experts in their field, who were able to set out the criteria needed to meet the requirements of FSC Project certification, to become only a handful of retail buildings in the country to have met the strict FSC Project certification criteria.