Government plans for nuclear Future. Coleman in, Millett out at Bovis. Gordon Brown sets leadership agenda. Wembley still unbuilt. Consultants flee war-torn Lebanon. Treasury reviews the PFI’s future. Building buys pints. Jack Lemley slams London 2012.


The number of pages that Kate Barker suggested be slashed from national planning guidance in her December report. That would leave just 200 pages for developers to worry about …

Amec’s woes

Amec, for so long the industry’s five-axle Mercedes Benz, performed more like a Robin Reliant this year. Problem contracts led to a £58m pre-tax loss in its interims, the share price fell, and it ended the year as a takeover target. To top it off, Sir Peter Mason left after 10 years in the driving seat, giving new chief Samir Brikho the task of diverging the group into UK infrastructure and energy businesses.

Arsenal vs Wembley

In July, Sir Robert McAlpine’s Rolv Kristiansen delivered the Arsenal stadium two weeks early and on budget for coach Arsene Wenger and his team.

It was an astounding success, with McAlpine building around a waste treatment centre and coping admirably with last-minute power supply changes. The Emirates stadium shows UK construction at its best.

The ugly face of the industry on display at Wembley. After months of denials, contractor Multiplex finally conceded that the project was in trouble. UK managing director Martin Tidd said in January that the project would have to go “as smoothly as a Swiss watch” to hit its FA Cup deadline. It didn’t and the stadium still isn’t finished.

Multiplex blamed client WNSL for design changes, a charge chairman Mike Jeffries denied, although the two eventually settled out of court. More embarrassing still was Multiplex’s case against the stadium’s steel contractor, Cleveland Bridge UK. The judge said it breached its contract when it walked off site in 2004 and damages could reach £13m.

The perils of temptation

There were several sorry tales of financial collapse this year, as specialists attempted to grab the cash but got caught in the traps of underpricing and overexpanding.

Coverite, a 56-year-old roofing outfit, went into administration in April, after (arguably) overtrading. In 2004, turnover grew 65%, from £20m to £33m. It had pulled off a a string of successful jobs, including the Scottish parliament and London’s City Hall, when it came unstuck with loss-making contracts in northern England and London. It didn’t help that in February, it got fined more than £100,000 for collusive tendering. Most of its contracts were snapped up by rival Prater.

Fit-out firm Curzon went into receivership in March, leaving its bank chasing £11m and its subbies at least £3m. The collapse was caused by problems with a Dundee jute mill and a Brighton residential scheme, and, crucially, a delay to BT’s upgrade programme.


The price of a life A Building investigation in May revealed that this was the average fine levied on construction firms found guilty of a safety breach that led to a death. This is 30% lower than the average across all industries.

A Spanish acquisition

Airport operator BAA spent months fighting off takeover attempts by Ferrovial, but the Spanish construction giant finally prevailed in June. Despite fears the £10.1bn deal might lead to underinvestment, a £9.5bn procurement strategy was published in September.

The Bovis merry-go-round

A week after telling Building that his aim was to strengthen the bond between parent and subsidiary, it transpired that Bob Johnston, Bovis Lend Lease’s global chief executive, was not that conciliatory. After he was brought in by Lend Lease, his authority over the UK-based Bovis business was made clear by the resignation of UK chief executive Jason Millett.

Long considered one of the industry’s stars, Millett was replaced by another Australian Lend Lease man, Murray Coleman. Global finance director Andrew Silverbeck resigned a month later, and commercial director Mike Howes soon followed, after almost 20 years at the firm.

At the tail end of the year, Bovis restructured, ripping out layers of management and roles that were deemed to be redundant.

Hey, big spenders

  • In March, Galliford Try surprised everyone by snapping up Morrison Construction services from AWG for £42m
  • The cash cow that is retirement homes specialist McCarthy & Stone was finally bought, after years of speculation, by the Mother Bidco consortium for £1,1bn
  • In October, US construction firm Black & Veatch beat Balfour Beatty in the race for MJ Gleeson’s civil engineering business, which went for £36m
  • But Balfour Beatty was successful in its pursuit of contractor Birse in July, which it bought for £32m
  • SMC Group seemed to buy every architect in sight – including Alsop Architects for £1.8m in March

London 2012

This was the year we all woke up from the Olympic dream. Despite our Olympians’ bullish views (see Redgrave & Holmes pictured), the harsh realities of constructing the biggest event on earth hit London this year: budgetary problems, organisers’ rows and design criticisms all made the headlines.

Back in January, there were some concerns that the decision of David Higgins, chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, to jettison the programme manager role could lead to delay. Instead, he wanted an Olympic delivery partner, which would take over some of the client’s role. But the winning consortium, CLM,was not appointed until August.

The most serious accusations have been over soaring costs. Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, admitted in November that the cost of the Olympic park had already risen from £2.4bn to £3.3bn since the bid was calculated. Worse still, Don Evans, chief executive of CH2M Hill, which is part of CLM, said the overall cost of the Games would be £12bn. However, Olympic chiefs argue that other projects, such as the £4bn Stratford City regeneration scheme, have been included in this figure.

Most embarrassingly of all, Jack Lemley went on the attack shortly after resigning as chairman of the ODA in October. He warned of escalating costs and said local politics, including a row over where to relocate 200 businesses, were threatening the Games. Typically, London mayor Ken Livingstone waded in, saying of Lemley: “The capacity of the mind to self-deceive is unlimited.”

To top all this off, design problems were emerging. Lord Rogers expressed fears that design quality is being neglected, while Zaha Hadid’s aquatics centre had to be scaled down to meet its budget.

On the plus side, the Sir Robert McAlpine team that built the Emirates will take on the Olympic stadium. A good news story in a difficult first year for London 2012.

Hip to be squarer

Well, we like to think so. In June, we moved to a squarer format, introducing a bolder logo and a cleaner design. Taking advantage of the redesigned magazine’s brighter palette of colours, the first cover story was of Jean Nouvel’s museum of ethnic art in Paris, which is covered by a luxuriant vertical garden. New features included Making the news, pen portraits of industry players; a clients section and the wildly popular Building buys a pint column, which has proved far more costly than first imagined …


The estimated value of the Wilson family’s stake in housebuilder Wilson Bowden, which went up for sale in November

Blowing in the wind

2006 was the year that everybody went green: even the notoriously eco-sniffy Conservative party took up the environment mantle this year, with new leader David Cameron installing a wind turbine and solar panels in his north Kensington home.

Building took on the issue by campaigning for energy efficient housing and publishing a series of interviews with energy experts throughout May (see pictures).

In June we launched our 99% campaign, which called on the government to provide incentives for owners to improve the energy performance of their buildings, and to provide clear guidance on certification. The campaign stemmed from fears that energy policies were ignoring existing building stock, which makes up 99% of the UK’s housing. The campaign has received high level support from both industry and government, including former Strategic Forum chairman Peter Rogers and Building Regulations minister Angela Smith.

There was also success for our campaign to reform the Building Regulations, with a summit taking place at Building’s offices in March. This produced a five-point manifesto that included recommendations to introduce regulations on fixed dates and unify the sustainability legislation into one code.

Sadly, one of the key figures at the summit, Anne Hemming, died four months later in a cycling accident in Scotland. Hemming was the head of sustainable buildings at the Communities Department. She is sorely missed.

A wonder, a blunder, a hall of fame and a moment of notoriety …

• Pictured was the first of many health and safety blunders we published this year. The photograph was taken in Jaipur, India, and coincided with our focus on the country’s booming construction market. Bangalore is particularly flourishing, as it is the country’s number-one outsourcing destination, and is hungry for contractors to provide more space.

• Ray O’Rourke upset an entire sex at a British Council for Offices conference in May when he said a building site was “not a place where women fit in”. Cue dozens of letters, one sarcastically explaining that her response was “undoubtedly full of fluff and nonsense” and another wondering, “Perhaps there is no place in the industry for Ray O’Rourke?”

• Who’s this dapper gent? Why, it’s Sir Parker Morris, the man who in 1961 authored the seminal report, Homes for Today & Tomorrow, which set standards for housing design. He was also one of the 40 inductees into Building’s Hall of Fame, which opened in November.

• This Swiss spa was one of the more spectacular buildings of the year. Built on time and for just £15m, the Tschuggen Mountain Meanwhile, Grimshaw’s Bath Spa development finally opened in August, six years late and £30m over budget …

Bowker’s maths lesson

When Building interviewed Richard Bowker, the man in charge of the £40bn Building Schools for the Future programme, in April, the cover read: “This man has to deliver one secondary school every 36 hours for 13 years. How on earth is he going to do it?” Perhaps he saw it: the following month he quit, to double his salary at National Express.

The last trainee?

In September we reported on how the UK construction’s flagship training facility in Bircham Newton, Norfolk, was on the verge of closure. The National Construction College is desperate for new facilities – its current halls of residence and leisure buildings are leaking and falling foul of child protection laws. The CITB thinks it can raise money to build the facilities by selling 23 acres of land for housing, but the council, which acknowledges that the college is one of the area’s key employers, won’t grant the residential scheme permission.

And finally ...

Blair’s nuclear warning

Prime minister Tony Blair used his last Labour party conference as leader to tell delegates in September that Britain faced an “energy crisis” unless a wave of nuclear power plants are built.

The Treasury’s cunning plan

In March, the Treasury reviewed the PFI and came up with a number of proposals to make it more efficient. These include potentially removing soft services such as cleaning and catering from the PFIs and shortening contract lengths.

Flight from Beirut

The British Construction and Consultants Bureau teamed up with security firm Edinburgh International to evacuate workers from Lebanon in July during the conflict with Israel. Consultants Davis Langdon and DJ Jones were among those that fled.

Brave words

Margaret Hodge succeeded Alun Michael as construction minister, and acted to dispel fears that the industry would be poorly represented in her wide-ranging brief. In June, she told Building: “Judge me by what I do.”

In Frank’s footsteps

The £53m Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, by Dutch architect UN Studio, opened in May. It borrows the spiral form of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim museum in New York.

Nine minutes in July

A Building investigation in December revealed that St George’s timber-frame housing development in Colindale, north London, burned to the ground in less than nine minutes. The incident took place on 12 July.

Oh, the anti-climax …

World Cup fever hit construction this year, with major firms holding parties. Reid Architecture had a giant inflatable mascot and ate West Indian cuisine from local eaterie Mr Jerk for the England vs Trinidad & Tobago game. Rival architect Scott Brownrigg upped the ante by bringing in a beer keg and pump for the matches.

A message from Gordon

Chancellor, and prime minister in waiting, Gordon Brown told Building in June that the government and private sector must focus on training ahead of the 2012 Olympics. He added that improving the skills of the workforce was essential if UK construction was to compete in an increasingly global market.

To the golf club …

A housebuilder for 40 years, David Pretty retired as chief executive of Barratt in December, to be replaced by Mark Clare. Another retiree was Geoff Wright, the construction director at developer Hammerson, who took the step in June.