Bolt-on problems at new US embassy


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The Independent Online

The company that was forced to replace dozens of giant bolts on the City’s Cheesegrater skyscraper has run into difficulties on another high-profile London project – this time the £650m US embassy building in Vauxhall.

Severfield, the structural steel firm, took a £6m hit on the skyscraper – officially the Leadenhall Building – in its results in June after some of the bolts sheared away from the structure, necessitating extensive replacements on the tower.

Now it is having to replace thousands of bolts on the top four floors of the embassy.

The bolts on the upper floors of the highly sensitive project were American-made and were supplied by the US main contractor on the job, BL Harbert, which is working with the UK builder Sir Robert McAlpine, but their replacement is set to delay concreting work on the top floors of the building. The non-US bolts used on the embassy’s lower seven floors are unaffected.

Sources said the replacement was unlikely to wreak the sort of financial havoc that the Cheesegrater caused to Severfield’s results, despite the fresh embarrassment to Ian Lawson, the chief executive.

Even before the latest £6m bill, cost overruns on the skyscraper and other projects forced the sacking of the previous chief executive and an emergency rights issue to shore up Severfield’s balance sheet in 2013. The shares – down 5 per cent, or 3.75p to 67p – are still at less than half the level seen three years ago before the company’s difficulties emerged.

Sir Robert McAlpine confirmed that some bolts were being replaced although it said “this does not affect the overall project schedule at all”. Severfield, BL Harbert and the US embassy declined to comment.

Site sources told the Construction Enquirer website that as many as 33,000 bolts could have to be replaced at the embassy in a job expected to take eight weeks. It is unclear why the bolts need to be replaced.