Shoppers of Harborough: did you know there will be a man under your very feet this Christmas?
His name is Jamie, and he comes from Leeds.
Jamie Warren is the man operating a tunnel-boring machine, which will gradually drill underneath The Square in Harborough, about the height of a house below the feet of shoppers.
Sitting towards the front of the huge machine, he uses a laser beam to guide him along the correct underground route for the 1.2-metre-wide tunnel.
The tunnel will finish in a large “reception pit” to be dug at the corner of The Square and Coventry Road, where it will join a smaller tunnel beneath Coventry Road, drilled by an unmanned machine.
It’s all part of a £1.5m Anglian Water flood alleviation scheme, aimed at putting an end to flooding in the Coventry Road part of town.
Work started in October in the corner of the Commons Car Park near Tesco, where the huge drill pit has been dug.
The tunnelling machine was lowered into the pit last Thursday to begin its 100-metre long underground journey. The new sewer pipe will be laid behind the machine as it travels.
Mr Warren is one of only a handful of people in the UK qualified to work underground like this.
He will be supported by a team of six; two men at the bottom of the pit, one man at the top, a crane operator and a specialist confined-space rescue team on standby.
Settlement monitors on nearby buildings will make sure the tunnel has no effects on surrounding shops.
Coventry Road will be closed between High Street and the Commons car park entrance from early January as work continues on the smaller pipeline.
Footpaths will remain open.
Project manager Greg Reddy said: “When it’s all working, the outflow pipe will be able to discharge 500 litres of water per second into the River Welland.
“We’ve put it all through a hydraulic computer model, so we know how everything is going to react.”
He added: “Because we’re not digging down in a huge trench, we’ve got a low carbon-footprint and there’s minimal disruption on the surface.”
Antony Innes, of Anglian Water, added: “The work will see 230 metres of new larger surface water sewer installed to help take rain water and run-off away from Coventry Road and into the River Welland. Work is progressing well and on course to be completed in the spring.
“People in town will be carrying on with their daily lives, while six metres below their feet one of our engineers will be driving a tunnelling machine. Hopefully, residents and businesses will understand the importance of the scheme, and that the long-term benefits will far outweigh the disruption.”