A top Northern Ireland firm which built a series of flagship projects is facing an uncertain future.
The family-run Patton Group, which has been in business for 100 years and employs around 350 people, is on the brink of falling into the hands of administrators.
The firm said it has been working closely with its debtors but administrators were expected to take over at the helm yesterday.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr said the loss of such a large employer would be “huge” for the Ballymena area where Patton Group is based and called for support from its lenders and potential backers.
“We need people to realise they (Patton Group) can get out of this.
“This is a company which is a household name here. It’s built many of the houses here and pretty much every major construction project has had their name on it.”
He said that given the difficulties in the construction sector here which has contracted by 40% since a peak in 2007, “the surprise is it’s taken the company so long to reach this situation”.
The troubles of a company of such standing as Patton Group will also hit the sector here hard, although industry insiders said they were aware of its problems.
Although the past few years had been difficult for all firms in the building industry, Patton Group had managed to make an operating profit in 2011 and was behind a number of high profile projects.
It built the Belfast Metropolitan College, Mid Ulster Hospital and Antrim Area Hospital, while its fit-out arm has been involved in John Lewis stores in England and the Hard Rock Cafe in Brussels.
But one of its biggest downfalls, as with many developers, has been its land bank — development land it bought during the boom years for the Northern Ireland property market — which has fallen sharply in value.
In its 2011 accounts, Patton Group wrote down the value of development land by nearly £5m and by a similar amount in 2010.
Falling into administration doesn’t mean the company will close but that specialist administrators will take over the day-to-day running while a solution, whether a new owner, backer or other way to pay off debtors, can be found.
In a statement on Monday, a spokesman for the group said it had been in talks with its lender — which its latest accounts reveal to be Northern Bank.
North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister said the prospect of losing the firm was “dire”.
Mr Allister said: “With different aspects to the business I hope that at least something significant can be salvaged which will lessen the blow. Now is a time for Invest NI and DETI to show their mettle.”
The Belfast Telegraph understands the appointment of Keenan Finance as administrators is expected to be led by the directors of the company rather than Northern Bank.