Alfred McAlpine is still keen to find a merger partner following the collapse of talks with Bryant earlier this year.

Chief executive Oliver Whitehead, who fought off an approach from Brunswick Developments last year, said conversations with Bryant had shown that the two had good “complementary skills”. He added: “The real story there is what might have been.”

House price inflation and better margins helped McAlpine achieve a record 37% leap in pre-tax profit after exceptionals to £46.5m for the year to 31 December 1999. Turnover was up 10% at £790.9m. The housing arm saw operating profit increase by one-third to £43.2m on turnover up 15% at £412.6m. Average selling price rose from £98 600 in 1998 to £113 500. The social housing arm almost doubled operating profit to £1.6m. Civil engineering logged a pre-tax margin of 4.5% and profit of £10.3m. Special projects tripled profit to £1.6m on turnover of £129m.

The company’s private finance initiative roads, the A1M and the A147/A419, generated pre-tax profit of £1.1m. “After a lot of huff and puff, our three-year investment has now started to pay off. But it is still not reflected in our share price,” said Whitehead.