Ochre Yards, Gateshead


Key facts:

  • Five apartment blocks over a seven year period
  • Speed of build a priority
  • First apartment block of 114 flats completed in just 14 weeks
  • Mix of four, five and six storey buildings
  • Cost savings and design benefits from early involvement in the project

Type and size of project:

Ochre Yards is an expansive development of multi-storey flats on the banks of the River Tyne. It is a large-scale residential housing project, which commenced in 2004.

Initiated at the peak of the housing market, the client’s main objective was to increase the speed of build so that it could capitalise on the high demand for homes in the area as quickly as possible.

Description of project:

Stewart Milne Timber Systems has supplied and erected five apartment blocks for the developers Bellway Homes North East over the life of the project.

The first apartment block of 114 apartments was completed within 14 weeks. The second, third and fourth apartment blocks of 96, 96 and 50 flats respectively were completed in 20, 19 and 11 weeks, and the final apartment block of 52 homes was finished in 10 weeks.

Ochre Yards is situated in an already built-up area with a railway line located to the rear of the first apartment block’s site.  This presented logistical and access challenges for the construction team, which Stewart Milne Timber Systems helped overcome by working closely with Bellway Homes North East to agree defined crane lifting plans before starting work on site, and restricting the height of all deliveries to allow access under the low railway bridge at the site entrance.

Using cranes to erect the entire superstructure of each apartment block, Stewart Milne Timber Systems employed open wall, floor and roof panels to ensure speed of build for the client.  The open panels selected for this project allowed for extremely high performance.

Another challenge of the project was the need to integrate highly detailed balconies into the timber frame structure, made more complicated by the varying cladding materials. Through early engagement at design meetings, the balcony structures were detailed with the primary support included within the timber frame through cantilever steels incorporating thermal breaks to maintain the performance of the building.

This allowed the superstructure of the buildings to be completed quickly and the external cladding materials - a mixture of masonry and cladding panels – to be fixed directly to the timber frame.  Once the scaffold was dropped, the final metalwork detailing for the balconies was installed. This cantilever steel solution combined with careful planning vastly streamlined the build process. Cost and design savings were also achieved as Stewart Milne Timber Systems was able to suggest more suitable and cost effective materials or integration alternatives where necessary.

Speed of build:

The use of timber frame increased the speed of build and enabled the building/s to be wind and watertight quickly. With the added benefit of early deployment of follow on trades, multiple tradesmen could work through the critical path simultaneously, further supporting the speed of build. This also meant the project was not dependent on good weather conditions, and therefore less vulnerable to delays. Offsite construction can also improve the cash cycle by enabling a quicker turnaround on initial capital outlay.


Stewart Milne Timber Systems has a long established supply chain, so availability of materials was never a concern for Bellway Homes North East.

With all structural timber sourced direct from mill owners with long-standing relationships, there were no additional costs from distributors, nor any material capacity to cause delays. Likewise, with capacity to manufacture 10,000 units per annum and the ability to flex manpower to accommodate larger projects and shorter lead times, Stewart Milne Timber Systems easily met the requirements of the project. There was no restriction in the height, shape or configuration of panels, and each was individually designed and made to suit the building layout. Call off times were shorter too, with the ability to call off within three weeks once designs were completed, thus supporting the speed of build to meet the project’s timescales.


Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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