Olympian boom
The current boom in the Greek construction market in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics seems to have largely bypassed UK contractors and consultants. Despite a few exceptions, UK firms seem about as welcome as planespotters, and are eclipsed by European giants such as Hochtief and Bouygues, and local contractors such as J&P Hellas (with a turnover of £106m) and Aktor (£93m). Consultants seem to be fairing a little better, and firms such as WS Atkins, Arup and White Young Green all have local operations.

Companies may still be wary after the disaster that befell British contractor Christiani & Nielsen, which went into administration in late 2000. Christiani, along with its Greek joint venture partner, claimed it was owed about £15m for the Preveza tunnel, a project started in the mid 1990s. Others who have worked in the country also express frustration at a long-winded procurement system, especially in public projects. One contractor complains: "It's not unusual to have 14 to 15 bidders for big projects, so it becomes a bit of a lottery. The whole system is based on strict rules and contract law. It's not a market for the faint-hearted."

Firms entering Greece have to show commitment, claims Mario Donnetti, international director of White Young Green, by buying or joint venturing with a Greek company. "You have to understand the idiosyncrasies of the market. You can't just parachute in," he says. Building Design Partnership's chairman Richard Saxon, whose firm is advising the Lawn Tennis Association on the tennis facilities at the 2004 Olympics, sums up the lack of enthusiasm for working in the country. "It's tricky stuff working over there," he says. "When there is a lot of work around one goes where life is relatively easy."

In spite of the problems there is no shortage of work in the run-up to the Olympics. Construction starts have risen 7.7% for the first half of 2001, compared with 2000, and the National Bank of Greece has described construction as "the most dynamic sector of the economy".