Working near water (Part 2 of 2)

Continuing on from Part 1 of 2, Working near water, we now consider the permit requirements for riverside developments. Any works within 8m of a main river or within the flood zone requires a Flood Risk Activities Environmental Permit.

3D cross section illustrating the 8m flood zone

3D cross section illustrating the 8m flood zone

The Riverside Pavilion at St Hilda’s front of College development, is positioned on the banks of the River Cherwell. Due to additional site specific complexities, it was agreed with the Environment Agency (EA) to develop a bespoke permit application. This involved a detailed method statement as part of the permit application process. This method statement was developed alongside Beard Construction. 


As not all the sub-contractors were appointed at that stage, it was agreed to create a project method statement which sets out the principles of the construction of the pavilion, reflecting our environmental impact assessment conclusions. Detailed method statements were then submitted as construction activities progresses. Each of those detailed method statements were reviewed by us for compliance with the EA agreements.  

One such area of work that has been completed is the demolition of the existing river wall. Part of the civil sub-contractor Greenford’s method statement had to address how a temporary cofferdam with silt traps was created within the river bed to allow for safe demolition of the existing wall.

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Once the wall was demolished, the new wall was built using sheet piles. This construction method allowed for substantial loading of the wall for the piling of the Pavilion Building.

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Due to the riverside setting, the sheet pile wall has perforations to allow ground water to flow through the wall. The top of wall follows the ground profile.

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The new sheet piling is then stone faced. During construction the level of the stone support was changed to run flush with the water level. This change required a further bespoke EA permit.

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It remains important to ensure the time period to apply for river permits with the EA is understood and considered in the overall project programme. Solid Structures have also recently been involved with EA river permit applications for Christ Church Punt Station, Asthall Manor Battery House refurbishment and Nuffield College refurbishment along Park End Street.

Working near water (Part 1 of 2)

Riverside development is always an exciting challenge! The St Hilda’s Front of College development in Oxford, flanked by the River Cherwell was even more so.

An artist impression of the St Hilda’s Front of College development

An artist impression of the St Hilda’s Front of College development

The site of development is along a particularly complex ecological corridor of the River Cherwell system. This required careful stakeholder management to balance sustainable environmental intervention with design intent. 

The site before development

The site before development

During the completion of our flood risk assessment, we facilitated early engagement with the Environment Agency, the Ecology team at Oxford City, the design team and the construction team.

Maximum flood water levels were agreed with the Environment Agency at the outset of the project. The compensation volume was calculated using a 3D model of the new building. This gave the design team a clear understanding of the risk of flooding, compensation volumes and building levels.

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Our flood risk assessment maintained the design intent from the project architect. Gort Scott Architects were keen to maintain a brick finish on the river side whilst allowing water to percolate through the wall.

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During our consultations that formed part of the flood risk assessment, the Environmental Agency approved the size of the designed openings which would provide a flow area equal to the usual vertical openings. The perforated brick wall is strengthened by a steel frame.

A general flood risk policy requirement of the Environment Agency and Oxford City Council is to soften the banks along the River Cherwell. In conjunction with JCLA Landscape Architects, we explored different options to achieve this. The agreed solution was to install pre-seed coil rolls and create a planting area within the river which will offset the hard perforated brick edge discussed above, once matured. The flood risk assessment provided clear proposals to ecology concerns raised by the development.

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Our rational approach to the various challenges and early engagement of the relevant stakeholders, allowed the Environment Agency to support our Flood Risk Assessment and the planning application.

Stonework re-imagined

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It's not everyday Solid Structures are appointed for all the disciplines of services on offer! On an ambitious residential extension we achieved just that!

Our structural, civil and stone facade design engineers are all hard at work making Adrian James Architects' vision for a run down cottage a reality!

Zion's Hill was originally built as two cottages in the 1700's. It was subsequently converted into a single home. A large extension was added in 1958 followed by a conservatory in 1980. Both the large extension and conservatory are poorly constructed and the building's floor plan does not offer a comfortable modern living layout.

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The project will see the demolition of the extension and conservatory. This will be replaced with a contemporary double storey extension, acknowledging its heritage with a set of gabled walls. Materials used will replicate the existing with Cotswold Stone for the walls and a slate roof. The walls will be constructed in a combination of rubble stone and cut stone.

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Of particular interest in this project is the use of oversized, deeply cut asymmetrically splayed stone window reveals. The stone edges in some instances are as narrow as 30mm. Director Sean Daly has been appointed as specialist stone facade designer by contractor WG Carter. He has his work cut out to provide solid structural solutions whilst maintaining the slender stone lines that were required in elevation.

Work has started on site with the demolition of the extension and conservatory. Structural remedial work to the original cottages is underway with some localised underpinning and structural modifications required to enable the new modernised layout. And then the exciting bit starts!

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for regular updates!

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Images credit: Adrian James Architects

Small but Mighty Mitre

Strolling down Turl Street, Oxford, one will be forgiven for missing the small side entrance to Lincoln College's student accommodation colloquially known as the Mitre. This is about to change with the introduction of a porter's lodge sandwiched between two Grade 2 listed buildings. Crafted from Clipsham Limestone, it will provide a single point of entry to the student accommodation beyond.

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Envisioned as a barrel vault by TSH Architects, the entire depth of the building will be vaulted with the barrel being formed by a series of keystones. An added level of complication was introduced by the first floor having a reinforced concrete floor which complicates works sequencing on site substantially. Apart from the stone barrel vault, the entire building will be clad in stone requiring a thorough understanding of stonework executed in contemporary detailing.

Solid Structures were appointed by OG Stonemasonry as specialist structural stone facade designer for this prestigious project. Benfield & Loxley is the main contractor for the project.

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Image credit: TSH Architects

Crafting a sculptural staircase

We love it when a 3D plan comes together! A great example is this sculptural concrete staircase we recently completed for a residential client.

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Despite the relative modest space reserved for the staircase, Quinlan Terry Architects presented an ambitious design. Originally designed as a stone stair we were tasked to look at an insitu concrete design which would not lose the stair’s sculptural quality in the limited space available but would provide a cost effective alternative. What seemed like a straightforward staircase on plan, evolved into a sculptural object in 3D with its continuous curved soffit winding through 180 degrees at landing level.

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It presented quite a challenge to not only the structural design but even more so in presenting the design to the client, contractor and form work subcontractor Cordek in a format that was easily interpreted. The concrete work was undertaken by Euro-City (Eastern)


We employed the latest in 3D BIM modelling and 3D printing technology to produce drawings and models to use in discussions with the client and project team. The outcome is quite inspiring!


BIM - Views from the ground up


Barriers to BIM uptake have received a lot of attention recently with several high level discussions taking place in recent months. Back in April, Sean Daly took part in a series of events discussing the barriers to BIM implementation in the construction sector. We often wonder if what is discussed at industry level is a true reflection of what engineers at the coalface experience. We asked the engineers in our office their views on working with BIM.

Common goals and understanding

If the model is not set up correctly from the word go, it is difficult to extract information and manipulate the model efficiently” Cristian, Engineer

A lot of frustration arises when some consultants are not brought on board from an early enough stage. They are then constantly on the back foot playing catch up rather than pro-actively working on the model” Adrian, Associate

“If a project’s co-ordinate system is not set up and adopted by the whole design team from early on in a project, it creates immense problems in the BIM model later on. This aspect is often overlooked.” Iryna, Engineer

The value benefit to projects

In the industry, the greatest driver for using BIM is still the client wanting it.  In my experience, we are still some way off wide spread uptake by clients and other design consultants and main contractors that will mean BIM project processes become the default for the majority of projects we are involved with, where all, rather than some, members of the team are using it. Only when all members of the team engage in BIM can the full project benefits be realised.” Paul, Associate

I have found that on smaller projects, BIM uptake is low due to costs. There is also a perception that the level of complication it introduces to a project is not worth the output, especially on small projects” Will, Engineer

BIM is very much a scalability thing. With scale comes efficiency which then underpins the business case for using it.” Richard, CAD technician

To me, the exciting future will be where the majority of projects are kicked off in a 3D BIM environment - from conception - using block diagrams and 3D stick models, with all data, mark ups, sketches and design developments being done in 3D through enhancement of the data in the original model - to completion, with construction sequencing and material take off being done along the way. As yet the software tools are a little way off being able to facilitate, particularly SME's, doing this efficiently and cost effectively but they are coming” Paul, Associate

Interactivity between different packages

The fact that there are several different BIM packages used in the industry with different levels of interactivity, means that there is a steep learning curve at the start of a new projects as consultants have to get their software to align to ensure no data is lost in translation.” Iryna, Engineer

Non-compatibility between different software sometimes causes loss of data which add a level of complexity to projects run in a BIM environment.” Iryna, Engineer

It is easy to update a BIM model when changes happen if all parties are working with the same program. Difficulties come when different programs are used, this can be very time consuming as the model requires exporting from one program and importing into another, this also gives more opportunities for errors to occur.” Diane, CAD technician

Training to understand optimum usage

In my view the perception is that BIM is just 3D drawing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. It’s about integration and collaboration.” Richard, Senior CAD technician

One must know when to stop modelling with BIM, there is an optimum point after which efficiency starts dropping due to data issues” Richard, Senior CAD technician

Another function of the BimPLUS viewer I think is very useful is allowing viewers to flag up issues, which are then sent to the person the query is addressed to. More importantly is the digital trail of outstanding issues it generates, thereby ensuring that critical issues are addressed timeously and are not overlooked” Adrian Associate


The many faces of conservation

Solid Structures has been involved with four conservation projects which have been short listed for the Oxford Preservation Trust Awards 2019 (OPT 2019). The broad range of projects shortlisted for these prestigious awards have made us contemplate the different nuances of the word conservation or preservation.

Conservation as preservation of the old

Traditionally, conservation meant to preserve, to retain, to protect from damage. The Westgate Tiles is a prime example of this train of thought.

The tiles were discovered by Oxford Archaeology during the south excavations which saw up to 50 dedicated archaeologists working on site to reveal the extensive remains of the medieval Greyfriars friary (AD 1244-1538) during the construction. The works was recognised by the British Archaeological Awards as ‘Best Archaeological Project 2016’.


 The display work was completed by the specialist heritage contractor Cliveden Conservation in time for the opening of the shopping centre in October 2017. Solid Structures designed the steel frame work to aid sequencing of the restored tiled panels ensuring the finished structure and fixings would not be visible.


Conservation as contemporary interpretation of the old

Our second OPT 2019 short listed project, The Pre-Prep addition to Summer Fields School is echoing the massing of the adjacent buildings whilst simple windows punch holes in the metal facade in a rhythm similar to its neighbours’.

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Despite the references to its historical context, the addition is undeniably contemporary, adding to the richness of its surrounds. Visit our projects pages for more information on this project.

Conservation as technological enhancement of the old

At St Peter’s College, we were asked to assist with acoustic improvements to the dining facilities at the Grade 2 listed Hannington Hall built around 1832. Due to the barrel vault shape of the hall, there were areas with acoustic dead spots and areas with distorted sound throughout the hall.


The problem was overcome with the introduction of acoustic panels fixed to a light weight metal framework between the ribbed roof rafters. In this case technological intervention, sympathetically applied, helped conserve the hall for use for many more generations.


Conservation as placemaking, year xero in history

Solid Structures’ Civils team has been involved in the access road design of the Science Oxford Centre and Wood Centre for Innovation, also shortlisted for the OPT 2019. This development, set in an eighteen acre woodland site in Headington, puts sustainable placemaking at the centre if its design philosophy.


Good design combined with sustainable building technologies provide a fantastic facility to local residents, primary education and science and technology development companies. Here, conservation is interpreted as sustainable future proofing through education, training and research.


Giving back – another local success story

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At Solid Structures we feel strongly about giving back. We not only want to be part of our local community, we also want to help shape the community. One of our associate engineers, Paul Mills, has done exactly that.

With a waiting list of nearly 500 gymnasts and a track record of success, Paul’s local gymnastics club in Carterton is in desperate need of new premises. The club has been running for 30 years and has produced gymnasts competing at international events, including the Commonwealth Games, all out of a school gym where equipment is put out and away every session. So the dream was born to create a permanent, large, fully equipped gym space, where gymnastic talent can be fully nurtured and exposed to the world arena, whilst also providing opportunities to a larger community, by offering gymnastics and complimentary sports to all ages and abilities.

Paul has played a pivotal role in identifying potential options for the permanent home for Carterton gymnastics Club. Working in collaboration with Solid Structures, Paul had access to our expertise on construction methods, costings and office resources to inform the feasibility studies for a variety of new build and refurbishment options. This process resulted in Paul producing a change of use planning application to West Oxfordshire County Council for a disused retail warehouse in Carterton on behalf of the club.

We look forward to seeing Carterton Gymnastics Club moving into their permanent home and wish them every success in the fund-raising campaign -!

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Secrets of the Golden Ball

After several months of planning, an expert team was put together to enable access into the golden ball atop St Lawrence’s church tower in West Wycombe to investigate the structure’s condition and weather ingress paths as discussed in our blog of the 11th February 2019.

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First of all, Chris Milford of Wall Walkers secured a safe route to the top of the tower. It was decided to go with rope access as this is the most cost effective and unobtrusive means to secure access into the golden ball. Each member of the survey team was strapped into harnesses, given a safety briefing and then the great ascent began!

Climbing ropes and hooks secured to enabled rope access into the ball

First up and into the ball was surveyor Carl Vincent from James Brennan & Associates Chartered Surveyors. Using the latest technology, a laser scan of the golden ball and its structure was carried out to produce measured survey drawings which will form the basis of any remedial works specification.


A non-destructive environmental timber condition survey was carried out by specialist Huw Lloyd of Environmental Building Solutions. Preliminary findings suggest that despite the ingress of rainwater, the oak structure was in a surprisingly good condition given its age. The saving grace for the structure is the abundance of openings allowing ingressed water to dry out quickly, reducing the risk of timbers rotting considerably. Some localised remedial work has been identified.

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Next, Solid Structure’s Mark Harris donned his safety harness and hard hat. Mark’s survey of the structure revealed a range of structural weak points to be remedied. Amongst these are a cracked rib in the golden ball’s structure, poorly executed past repairs that need re-doing or strengthening lower down in the structure and some compromised structural elements due to decay.


Last but not least Architect Emma Wiggins of Nick Cox Architects ventured into the ball. Areas identified for architectural intervention are; stopping water ingress, the railings to the tower, the access staircase and access hatch onto the top platform to the tower.

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Next steps are for the team to formally present their findings and agree a remedial plan of action to conserve this tower and golden ball, thought to be built in the 1750’s, for many generations to come.

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It’s unlikely that golden ball will be opened again as a public rendezvous point as was evidenced by engravings found on the inside of the ball and to the copper clad support turret but the church does have ambitions to look to open the top walkway, subject to resolving some safety aspects. So maybe one day you to could enjoy the view from the top!

To build or to buy?

We don’t know the answer to the question but we do know that Channel4’s Grand Designs: The Street series offered some compelling arguments for building. Working in the construction sector, we love all things building related! What we love even more is helping to demystify the process of construction for our clients and in Kevin McCloud’s words, helping “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.

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Let’s say that again: helping “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”.

At Graven Hill, we got to do exactly that.

Solid Structures have been involved with Graven Hill for the past 2 years, working with many self-builders realising their dream homes. Through Graven Hill’s Golden Brick package, self-builders can purchase their plots with below ground services and foundations already completed to the self-builder’s house design. This ensures that every self-build is off to the best possible start. Solid Structures is instrumental in this process as part of the Golden brick team providing the foundation and drainage designs. Subsequent appointments have been undertaken on numerous projects to complete the superstructure designs.

A leisurely drive though Graven Hill reveals the emergence of an architectural hotspot of design and engineering excellence by a range of designers, enabled by brave self-builders.

Some of the projects that excite us are featured here. Check back in a few months’ time for the unveiling of The Brick Blockhouse, a Solid Structures collaboration with Charlie Luxton Design. A small building with a big attitude: it combines mass brickwork, punctured by simple windows and an excitingly large cantilevered porte-cochère over the front entrance.  

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What goes on behind the COR-TEN facade?

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Solid Structures recently celebrated its one year anniversary in their new state of the art office in Chipping Norton. In 2016, in the spirit of re-imagining, directors Sean and Mark saw the potential of a near derelict old retail building in the centre of town. Over a two year period, the existing building was remodelled and recycled to create something of interest that addresses its location, in a manner befitting its context.

The remodelling works re-orientated the building with a new entrance added on as a single storey extension. It was important to create a unique space to offer a great collaborative working environment as well as demonstrating our creative side to our clients. The design celebrates COR-TEN steel and cedar cladding as façade materials and it sits effortlessly next to its Cotswold limestone neighbours: a proud new landmark for the local community.

So, one year on, did it deliver what it promised as a workspace? We asked our staff for their thoughts on the good, the fab and the downright sublime!

I really like the honesty of the materials and structure: polished concrete floors, plywood shelving and exposed services against the bare concrete soffit in the basement” Adrian, associate engineer

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Learning is improved by the open plan layout as we can listen to our colleagues’ discussions on projects.” Iryna, engineer.

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Downstairs is a secret working hub that has a real industrial feel to it with all its exposed ducting and a completely different feel to the upstairs office that's visible at street level.” Emily, office manager.

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The look and feel of the office is very professional and a great show case for our creativity and vision as engineers.” Ernest, engineer.

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It’s clear to see the level of care and thought that has been put into the design and functionality of the office with the bespoke furniture, and choice of fittings making it a great space for us to work in.” Kim, finance manager.

Overcoming Barriers to BIM Adoption - New Civil Engineer webcast

Solid Structures’ Sean Daly joined a panel of industry experts for an in depth discussion on overcoming the barriers to BIM adoption. In summary, the panel highlighted the following:

  • Commitment to continuous in-house training is crucial in developing a disciplined approach to a company’s BIM capability

  • Communication with the project team is paramount to ensure a common understanding of the type of information that is to be shared and at what stage of the process

  • Create greater awareness of the value benefit of BIM capability to encourage a greater uptake through webcasts, webinars and publications

We're finalists at the WOBAs!


The office is buzzing with excitement today after last night's announcement that Solid Structures are finalists in the West Oxfordshire Business Awards!

After a couple of gruelling interviews earlier this year, last night we found ourselves on the all important finalists board for both the Small Business of the Year and the Employer of the Year. 

We'll find out on the 29th March if we've won, so fingers and toes crossed until then!


St Lawrence's Church, West Wycombe


St Lawrence's Church is a Grade I listed church that sits on top of West Wycombe Hill in a prominent position overlooking the West Wycombe Road, and surrounding villages. The top of the tower is the highest point in the Southern Chilterns and on a clear day it is possible to see West London. The church was gradually rebuilt in its current form by Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Baronet and Baron Le Despenser. In the 1750s the medieval west tower was raised to make it an eye-catcher from the West Wycombe Estate, West Wycombe House and also from the West Wycombe road. It was topped by a great golden ball, possibly inspired by the Dogana, Venice.


The golden ball can be seen for miles around and is a recognised symbol of West Wycombe village. It is made from a wooden frame covered in gold leaf, 8 feet in diameter, and contains seating for up to six people. It is reputed to be a meeting place for the Hellfire Club and was described by the author John Wilkes as “the best globe tavern I was ever in.”

St Lawrence Church has been used as a backdrop and as part of important scenes in various popular TV shows and films such as Downton Abbey and in the 2016 film Bridget Jones's Baby.

Recently public access to the tower was closed due to safety concerns. From our initial inspection it is clear the structure is suffering from weather ingress and timber deterioration. We are organising timber investigation work but first we need to work out a method of safe access into the golden ball!

This story will continue…  

Bidwells Golden Triangle Ride, Oxford to Cambridge 2018

After many weeks of hard training, the day had finally arrived for us to tackle the Bidwells Golden Triangle Ride, 100 (and 3) miles across the country from Oxford to Cambridge in aid of Maggies.

An ample turnout from the office saw William Morris, Richard Young, Adrian Reeves, Dani Trevail and our summer student Alex Harris (no relation to Mark Harris) line up at the start all eager to get underway in the September drizzle.

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Alex broke away almost from the off, in pursuit of the front group to attempt a win for Solid Structures. A strong threesome who started 5 minutes prior kept him at bay and saw him riding solo for the first 45 miles.

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The rest of the team kept a good pace, working together as a foursome and helping each other when in difficulty. Much to the relief of Adrian at 60 miles in when he suffered a puncture, our resident enthusiast William was at hand to assist only to be thwarted by a dodgy valve core resulting in a double pumping session.

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All of the Solid Structures team finished in good time, Alex was in the first 10 riders to reach Anstey Hall in Cambridge in a respectable time of 5 hours 28 minutes. The rest of the team rolled in later looking surprisingly fresh and in a time of 6 hours 17 minutes. All of the team then celebrated with a hot shower, gourmet hot dogs and burgers along and a couple of well deserved drinks kindly offered by Bidwells to rejuvenate the exhausted finishers.

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Posted by Mark

New accreditations for Solid Structures


Solid Structures are pleased to announce that we have successfully achieved Constructionline Silver accreditation for meeting pre-qualification requirements appropriate to public and private level procurement. 

We have also been awarded the Health and Safety Accreditation by Acclaim Accreditation for securing the health and safety standards required under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

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We've moved!


At the beginning of April, we bid our final fond farewell to our Hook Norton Brewery home and set up permanent camp in our brand new offices in Chipping Norton. 

We're pretty chuffed with our new office space. Please do pop in and we can show you round properly!

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