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Blackpool becomes UK’s first test site for ‘groundbreaking’ sustainable, seashell concrete

Blackpool Coastal Housing

Seashells and concrete are converging to create a porous paradise in Blackpool, where local arts company LeftCoast has provided the first UK test site for a new, sustainable concrete.

The current trend of urbanisation and the impacts of climate change is leading to an increase in the number of localised floods, which wreaked havoc across the UK this Christmas. As more hard surfaces are being used to pave over natural green spaces, it becomes increasingly more important to consider how we remove the surface water.

An obvious solution is to make urban environments more porous…

To achieve this, Professor Karl Williams and his team at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have developed a sustainable, pervious concrete using whelks and scallop shells sourced at Fleetwood.

The university has joined forces with LeftCoast to test the concrete at Bostonway Community Garden, in Blackpool, as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional concrete.

Concrete in planters at Bostonway Community Garden, Hawes Side, Blackpool
The concrete in Bostonway Community Garden, Hawes Side, Blackpool

Tina Redford, LeftCoast’s Artistic Director, said: “I’m so proud that LeftCoast is able to support this innovative research, and offer the first UK test site for UCLan’s seashell concrete. When we designed our garden with Bostonway residents and Myerscough College, our mission was clear: to co-create a green space that was accessible for the elderly residents living in the area. The pervious concrete absolutely enables this.

“Wheelchairs and zimmer frames can move freely around the garden without limitations, while the concrete provides excellent environmental benefits. Incorporating waste seashells into the mix means it acts like a sponge, slowly releasing water while saying ‘goodbye’ to impurities – improving water quality. Rainwater glides through the surface effortlessly, infiltrating groundwater bodies. This is a natural and clever technology that has worked successfully in France. Now we need to really test it and subject the concrete to the weather in Blackpool!”

The novel pervious concrete, was developed as part of the three year CIRCLE Project (an European Regional Development Interreg funded scheme). Through groundbreaking research, UCLan partnered with Builders for Society École D’ingénieurs in Caen, France, to create the pervious seashell concrete, which can be used in urban settings such as footways and cycle paths, and is already being used on the Velo 3 cycle route in the Somme region of France.

A man with headphones pouring a bucket of seashells into a large stainless steel vat
Sieving the shells at The University of Central Lancashire

But what makes seashell concrete so special?

By recycling and reusing local waste seashells, we’re diverting them from heading to landfill and reducing the need for extracting natural resources from the earth. Nationally around 30,000 tonnes of waste shells go to landfill, each year, with the Northwest and Wales contributing 8,800 tonnes of cockles, scallop, and whelk shells (the equivalent of around 65 blue whales).

UCLan’s mechanical and hydrological tests have proven that the pervious seashell concrete meets UK standards on strength and permeability. Plus, the university’s Life Cycle Assessment has confirmed that it has a lower carbon footprint compared to conventional concrete and asphalt. So seashell concrete is a win-win for the environment and our communities.

Professor Karl Williams, said: “The idea behind the development of this product was to use local waste materials from the shellfish industry to make a pervious concrete for the built environment in flood-prone areas. It engages local communities, businesses, and government in finding local solutions to the challenges caused by climate change and the over-exploitation of the planet’s resources.”

Image of the seashell concrete made by the team at UCLan
The seashell concrete made by the team at UCLan

LeftCoast’s Bostonway Community Garden project is in partnership with The Centre for Waste and Resource Management at UCLan, Blackpool Coastal Housing, as well as Myerscough College who designed the space, and 2G Properties who completed the groundwork. It is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, Blackpool Coastal Housing, and Blackpool Council’s Public Health Department.

Dr Arif Rajpura, Blackpool Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “We’re thrilled to be able to use this new technology to improve the wellbeing of Blackpool residents by providing them with an accessible community garden space. It’s important that community assets are executed to the same standard as commercial builds, and I hope this trailblazing, seashell concrete inspires others to think of greener solutions when developing new spaces.”

Blackpool Coastal Housing