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Chris Rees

2020 – Chris Rees

Lifetime Achievement Award Winners

2018 – Norman Howell

2016 – Dec Downey

2014 – Ted Flaxman

Chris Rees

UKSTT are proud to announce that the Society will be awarding their prestigious ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ this year to Chris Rees. For more than fifty years, Chris has been a force to be reckoned with in the UK, with a career spanning interests in pipe jacking and tunnelling to the rehabilitation of watermains.

Below is an article written in 2014 by Julian Britton, Wessex Water highlighting Chris’ career.

‘Chris Rees took his first steps towards a career in the trenchless industry when he began his degree in Civil Engineering at London University in 1958. Living at Imperial College, Chris was the captain of Imperial College A XV and enjoyed his rugby and a busy social life.
Academically, it was a bright era for the great soil mechanics gurus of all time – Chris studied under one of the world’s leading authorities, Professor AW Skempton – and after finally getting down to work, Chris achieved his Honours Degree (2nd) in Civil Engineering in 1960.
Chris was greatly privileged to have spent his first years in contracting under the guidance of Sir Harold Harding, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Sir Harding was a truly inspiring gentleman, with a biting sense of humour and an immense depth of experience.
Working for Rees Construction in the early 1960s, on the “˜River Ouse Scheme’, Sir Harding instructed Chris to study for two days in the Institution library in order to determine the section and cut-off required for deep piling in very sensitive clays. This intensive study was rewarded by Sir Harding’s explanation (over a glass or two of good port) that this dealt with the theory only – the key element of the actual construction was the skill and experience of the foreman and timber-man.
Chris joined his grandfather’s company, William F Rees Limited, in 1960 and took responsibility for the development and operation of the Seerthrust pipe jacking operation. This was a new technique, with Chris and Jim Thompson (Managing Director of Tube Headings) the only engineers in the UK providing this revolutionary method of construction. This process was noteworthy for the first use of inter-jack pipe jacking stations in the UK.
Control systems at the time were somewhat basic – piano wire, candles and good eyesight predominating – and it was at this time Chris introduced the first use of laser for control of jacking shields to the UK. Amusingly, a couple of days after use of the first laser in a tunnel, the miners refused to continue and would not enter the heading. When quizzed by Chris, they informed him that they had been to the cinema the night before to see a film called “˜Goldfinger’, which included a scene with James Bond restrained on a metal table, soon to be cut in half by one of Chris’ light beams!
Chris relished the 60s, an exciting time of experimentation and systems development. The pipe jacking department went from strength to strength and Chris became Managing Director of Rees Construction in 1965, overseeing all of the company’s construction operations – including Seergun – a method of relining sewers using Gunite, both in segments and in situ.
Major pipe jacking contracts completed at this time included new sewerage systems for the cities of York and Cambridge, with total lengths of the order of 2.5 km.
Chris resurrected his connection to the film industry in 1968 when Paramount Pictures used one of his schemes for the famous tunnel drive-through scene in “˜The Italian Job’. The scene was filmed not in Turin, but in the Birmingham-Coventry Tithebarn main sewer, located in Stoke Aldermoor in Coventry, which was under construction at the time.
Chris left the family company in 1968 to set up Rees/Hough Limited, and concentrated exclusively on pipe jacking and tunnelling. Rees/Hough increased in size very rapidly and was taken over by Streeter, later Costain, in 1971. Chris set up the company with Mick Hough, a very astute QS who taught Chris the secrets of tendering – which stood him in good stead for the rest of his career. Chris and Mick also set up the Pipe Jacking Association (PJA), to promote the use of the technique, which has been a force for motivation through to today.
Chris is the first to admit that he is not a large company man, and after leaving in 1971 he spent the next few years hands-on with a small team, carrying out sub-contract work on tunnels, shafts and pipe jacking for CV Buchan.
By 1976, Chris had moved back to his roots in Somerset and it was at this time that he developed his interest in refurbishment of the underground structures built by the great engineers and contractors of the 19th and early-20th century.
He has subsequently worked exclusively in the field of renovation of underground structures since 1977 and addressed various technical bodies on the subject of sewer renovation and set up his company “˜Sewer Services’ in 1979.
Chris worked very closely with the Water Research Centre (WRC) in the formative years of UK sewer renovation and made a major contribution to the understanding of GRP lining of sewers. He collaborated with the WRC and Wessex Water to formulate the equations for GRP Panel lining design, SRM Type 1.
A section of redundant ovoid (egg shaped) sewer was chosen for lining and then destructive testing across the railway station at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. The sewer was loaded to a state of collapse by loading 60 tonnes of kentledge to the ground level. The resultant lateral movement of the lobe points on the straighter sections of the ovoid liners were measured and confirmed as a focus of design for the Type 1 equations.
The results were published by WRC and author D Proctor in 1981 as “˜Loading Trials on a GRP lined Sewer’, Report 32E July 1981. This ground-breaking experiment showed that the strength of the sewer could be substantially improved by lining. The unlined section of the sewer deflected 14 mm under load on the vertical access and recovered to 9 mm deflection, whilst the lined section deflected just 0.36 mm under maximum load and completely recovered on relaxation.
Chris also constructed the last known triple-ring brick ovoid sewer for the WRC at their premises for testing at this time, and it was in 1981 when he formed a working relationship with Wessex Water engineer, Barry Underwood. Together they were instrumental in lining some of the first sewers with GRP on the Devonshire Road Scheme in Weston-super-Mare in 1981. This scheme saw the renovation of 1.3 km of sewer dating from 1865, originally designed and built by the great British engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who had constructed the sewerage scheme in London.
The work they completed on understanding the potential collapse mechanisms of Victorian brick sewers, constructed through the UK and the former colonies, was cutting edge. Experimenting with polymer modified grouts, they eventually published their findings to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in 1983.
All of this research was eventually consolidated and formed the basis of the WRC’s publication “˜The Sewer Renovation Manual’, later published in the mid-80s.
Working in and around Somerset with Barry Underwood, they didn’t always get it right. Pressure grouting a major sewer under the Uphill Cricket Club, they over pressurised the external grouting and underestimated the ground’s rheology. The next match on Sunday was exciting as no one had realised the grout had set at the roots of the grass, and balls were bouncing before the batsman at the speed of sound!
Chris settled into a period of major GRP lining projects in the 80s with Sewer Services, setting up the Sewer Renovation Federation with Bryan Venn and Dave Paterson, a major influence in establishing the high standards of specification and safety that has made the UK specialist industry a world leader.
Recent history and overview
Chris completed some of the following schemes with Sewer Services:
• British Waterways £2.8 million over 18 years
• City of Liverpool £4 million over 14 years
• City of Bristol £4 million over 20 years, maximum single contract £0.5 million
• Wessex Water £5.4 million over 20 years, maximum single contract £1.2 million
• Scottish Water £4 million over 8 years, maximum single contract £3 million
• Somerset County Council £0.9 million over 7 years, maximum single contract £0.35 million.
All of the contracts summarised above consisted of man-entry sewer and culvert renovation works, using GRP and GRC panel units, Ferrocement and Intergrout, with a total renovated length well in excess of 30 km.
Certainly, Chris has always been proactive and has parachuted in to solve problems in times of emergency. When a Bristol Water Companies 21 inch Victorian watermain burst in 2001, mobilising 70,000 tonnes of the road into the River Avon, Chris’ team were ready within 24 hours to reinforce Wessex Water’s 2 m diameter brick sewer to prevent collapse. All of the original ash mortar had been imploded into the sewer as it took the full force from the exploding watermain.
Radical approach
Sewer Services personnel were highly professional and had a huge wealth of experience, especially regarding health and safety. So it is surprising to some to see the photograph of one of their operatives in a 525 mm lined sewer under Minehead in West Somerset, on the cover of New Civil Engineer magazine in 1981.
Health and safety has been refined and procedures such as this man entry are now banned in the UK, since the advent of the CDM Regulations. But Chris believes that in addressing the poor health and safety record in the British civil industry, we may have over compensated and lost the feel and ability to rationalise the risk of such interventions, effectively “˜throwing the baby out with the bath water’.
Chris and his team developed a knowledge of brick structures second to none and have convinced some experienced structural engineers that interventions are possible and encouraged them to overcome their scepticism, most recently during the lowering of a culvert floor on a 300 year old stream culvert through the village of Ottery St Mary in Devon, England. Even at the age of 76, Chris’ mind is sharp and in discussion, he exhibits a knowledge of geotechnics and structures equal to that of a newly chartered engineer.
Since reaching retirement age, Chris has sought to pass on his knowledge and has a strong mentoring drive, not wanting the established techniques to be forgotten. There has been no better recipient of this mentoring than Matt Durbin who, now in his thirties, has worked for Chris for many years. Under Chris’ stewardship, Matt has become an expert on timber headings, a little-used but versatile method of driving tunnels, and is now keeping the expertise alive in his own company, Matt Durbin Associates, a leading man entry company in the UK.
“Over the years, relining man entry sewers gave me a great education in understanding ground conditions and the structural behaviours of underground structures and an enormous respect for the men that built them, which Chris has always been very keen for me to understand,” said Matt.
“His favourite saying was, “˜Matt, no matter what, you must always go back to basic principles and understand how these things were built to be able to provide the best technique or solution for renovation.’
“His ability to sit round a table and convince some of the best engineers and health and safety executives, that crawling around in small pipes was actually safe, if the right control measures are in place, and carried out by experienced operatives, was amusing sometimes, just to see their faces looking at him as if he was stark raving mad.
“His enthusiasm is as strong today as ever and Chris has always been willing to pass on his academic and business expertise to me. We have been lucky enough to have worked on some exciting projects together over the years and I hope we work on many more in the future.”
Chris has never been one for hiding his beliefs and although he has attributes and diplomacy that would be worthy of a top delegate at the UN, he can be quite confrontational. In 1993 Chris took on the UK government and the newly privatised water companies, accusing them in a front page article in The Independent newspaper of underfunding the renovation of sewers. An acrimonious battle ensued which resulted in an increase in capital expenditure, and the support of some of the water companies, who agreed with him.
At this time in his life, Chris seems to have the perfect balance, spending the winters helping his daughter run her hotel in the Caribbean, and the summers attending design meetings for potential clients as a consultant back in England’.

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