When recreation centre Sapphire Ice & Leisure opened in Romford this January, it became the UK’s first example of an ice rink built on a floor wholly and directly above a heated swimming pool. In building design and construction terms, this posed a number of unique technical challenges.
Guided by research and development (R&D) tax credit specialists ForrestBrown, two firms working on the project – architects Saunders Boston and mechanical and electrical company Kershaw Mechanical Services – received a financial boost from the government that allowed them to invest in business growth.
The project was Havering Council’s largest single investment (£28m) in a borough-wide improvement programme. Work began in 2013 when Saunders Boston were briefed to design a building that would include a 25m, 8-lane swimming pool and National Standard ice rink, alongside other fitness facilities.
The Cambridge-based architects did not have the luxury of a large plot of land, so the initial challenge was to find a way of fitting two facilities with fixed, regulated sizes into a limited build space in the heart of Romford.
With the working concept agreed on, the architects were presented with a number of technical challenges to address. The priority was to ensure that the two markedly different climates – warm and cold – could co-exist on stacked floors. The condensation risk needed to be analysed in detail, and specialists were enlisted to crunch the numbers.
The building’s heating and ventilation system was designed and built by Kershaw Mechanical Services. The main challenge they faced was that they again needed to accommodate extremes of temperature and humidity, which they solved with two major plant rooms for the specialist equipment.
With little by way of a precedent on which to base this project, it was R&D-intensive for both contractors, who explored brand new solutions and collaborated with a number of external experts.
Both contractors were relatively new to R&D tax credits at the time of this project, and had previously believed that their work might not meet its eligibility criteria. Working with ForrestBrown, they both secured cash payments for R&D undertaken on projects including Sapphire Ice & Leisure.
The R&D tax credit schemes, administered by HMRC, are designed to incentivise businesses to enter the unknown and create innovative products, processes or services. Successful R&D tax credit applications result in a corporation tax rebate, paid in cash, for qualifying projects.
Emily Williams, senior tax manager at ForrestBrown, who handled the claims for both contractors, said: “As the Sapphire Ice & Leisure example shows, construction firms are frequently undertaking R&D during projects. Companies often view this simply as part of the job – solving problems to get things done – whereas R&D is viewed as something done by people in laboratories.
“The number of construction companies actually claiming R&D tax credits is still much smaller than those who qualify, so any project that presents scientific or technological challenges that need solving is definitely worth an initial conversation. Only by discussing projects with specialists, who can clearly explain the government’s guidelines, do many of our clients see that they are eligible.”