WORK is set to start on Helensburgh's £22 million waterfront project in just a few weeks – turning the town's pierhead area into a construction site for the best part of the next two-and-a-half years.

Northern Irish civil engineering firm Heron Bros has been named as the winner of the main works contract – though, as the Advertiser revealed this week, the value of the work carried out by the company for Argyll and Bute Council will be £19m, not £22m as the council originally announced.

The work will result in a significant loss of parking spaces in the town, with both the pay-and-display area and the free of charge section of the pierhead car park set to become a work site.

In addition to the leisure centre and swimming pool, Heron Bros will also be responsible for improved flood defences on the seafront side of the site, along with revamped vehicle parking facilities – with the end result being much fewer spaces than at present – as well as 'public realm' works.

READ MORE: Helensburgh waterfront contract is worth £19m, not £22m, council admits

The anticipated overall cost for the project was £17m when a final design was approved more than four years ago, but that figure has since risen to £22m.

Here we look back at how the project reached this point, and at what is likely to happen in the future – but first, we shed a bit more light on the company that will be doing the work...

Who are Heron Bros?

Formed by six brothers in Draperstown, north-west of Belfast, in 1956, Heron Bros now works in construction, land and property and manufacturing on sites across the UK, Ireland and Europe.

In addition to its headquarters, still located in Draperstown, the firm now has offices in Glasgow, Manchester and London and has worked on numerous major civil engineering contracts in the west of Scotland.

The company was the main works contractor on the project to build a new Kilpatrick School in Clydebank for West Dunbartonshire Council and the Vale of Leven Business Park in Dumbarton, and has also built a new primary school and nursery, and a faith schools joint campus, in Newton Mearns near Glasgow.

Its other Scottish projects include Glasgow University’s Stevenson Hive building, retail parks in Port Glasgow and Ayr, and schools and community facilities in East Ayrshire.

The firm has also built leisure centres in Belfast, Newtonards, Port Talbot in South Wales and the National Indoor Arena in Dublin.

READ MORE: The reasons why Helensburgh's waterfront cost jumped from £17m to £22m

Helensburgh Advertiser:

How did we get here?

Proposals for the regeneration of Helensburgh’s waterfront date back many years and have taken many forms – but here’s a quick reminder of some of the important dates in the lifetime of the current proposals...

December 2009 - an initial masterplan for the site, prepared by Turley Associates, is published following two ‘outline business case’ studies for potential future uses of the site.

May 2012 – a revised Helensburgh Pierhead Masterplan, prepared by Gareth Hoskins Architects, is approved by the council. It says a new swimming pool and leisure facility covering more than 24,000 square feet is the best use of the site, along with reduced-scale retail use, a public space, 205 car parking spaces and a coach and taxi drop-off facility.

June 2016 – Helensburgh and Lomond councillors approve one of five design options for the site with a budget of £17 million.

June 2017 – A year on from the approval of the design, a report to councillors reveals the project isn’t likely to be completed until 2021 – 15 months later than originally anticipated.

December 2017 – Councillors on the Helensburgh and Lomond area committee approve ‘radical changes’ to the project design – most notably a change in the leisure centre’s location from the western edge of the seafront site to the southern edge, directly facing the Clyde.

February 2018 – The first computer-generated images of how the new centre might look are released.

May 2018 – Helensburgh Community Council publishes the results of a survey which it says has found that 55 per cent of people don’t approve of Argyll and Bute’s overall proposal.

January 2019 – The project finally secures planning permission at the third attempt after Argyll and Bute’s planning committee twice asks for more information about flood prevention measures. The project cost rises to £19m.

July 2019 – The council announces it will have to relaunch the tendering process for the project after a “technical breach” - and says the new pool is not likely to open to the public until 2022.

March 2020 – An update to Helensburgh and Lomond councillors, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, says that construction work could begin within six months.

June 2020 – Councillors approve the award of the main works contract for the project – though a further three weeks will pass before Heron Bros can be confirmed as the winning bidder.

Helensburgh Advertiser:

READ MORE: Advertiser View: A big week, and big questions, for Helensburgh's waterfront project

What happens next?

According to a timeline provided to elected members of Argyll and Bute Council at the end of June, we are now nearing the end of the 'contractor's mobilisation period', which runs until this Wednesday, July 29.

Here's what happens after that point...

Site establishment: 10 days from July 30 to August 12

Construction of flood defences (stage 1) and leisure centre (stage 2): 500 days from August 13 until July 13, 2022

Staff migration to new leisure centre and familiarisation in new building: 19 days from July 14 to August 9, 2022

Demolition of existing pool and completion of car parking and landscaping (stage 3): 100 days from August 10 to December 27, 2022

Defects rectification period: 260 days from December 28, 2022 until December 26, 2023

Contract close-out: 20 days from December 27, 2023 until January 23, 2024

READ MORE: Catch up with all the latest news headlines from across Helensburgh and Lomond by clicking here