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Builder hopes for lucrative £65m Luton Airport deal

By Margaret Canning

Published 24/09/2015

Northern Ireland’s building industry is still in the doldrums
Northern Ireland’s building industry is still in the doldrums

Northern Ireland construction firm McLaughlin & Harvey is in line for a £65m contract for the redevelopment of Luton Airport - the second from the province to be linked to a big-money Luton deal.

The firm, which is based in Newtownabbey, is tendering for at least one deal at the airport, including its biggest building contract at £65m.

However, the prospect of yet more success for a Northern Ireland firm in Britain comes as a survey by the Construction Employment Federation and PwC reveals that a third of building firms in Northern Ireland are struggling.

Federation chief John Armstrong said confidence remained "lukewarm" and that the industry was facing several difficulties. "Chief among these headwinds is the continuing political malaise at Stormont, where a breakdown of communication, trust and decision-making around the Executive table has left a huge sense of frustration and anger within the construction industry."

McLaughlin & Harvey's interest in the Luton Airport deal was revealed by Construction Enquirer days after another Northern Ireland firm, Whitemountain Quarries, announced it had won a £13m deal for infrastructure and transport at the airport revamp.

And it's also been reported that McLaughlin & Harvey is in line for a second deal with Luton Airport to build a four-storey car park.

A spokeswoman for the firm, which had turnover of nearly £196m in 2014 and employs around 430 people, said it was still in the tendering process and could not comment.

A spokesman for Luton Airport also refused to comment, but said an announcement of the outcome of the procurement process would be made next week.

Today, the quarterly survey from the Construction Employers Federation and PwC said around one-third of Northern Ireland's biggest building firms were "struggling to stabilise their businesses", while 16% are just trying to survive.

Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC's chief economist in Northern Ireland, said: "Putting the survey in context, since 2007, Northern Ireland's construction industry has been the most severely impacted sector in terms of both output and employment.

"The impact of the financial crisis on the industry here was considerably worse than in Great Britain and, while local construction companies have won a considerable volumes of new work in GB, the current level of output in Northern Ireland alone remains around 40% below the level experienced pre-2007."

John Armstrong said firms which secured work in Britain were embodying the Programme for Government's ambition for more businesses to export.

But he warned that some could ultimately decide to up sticks from Northern Ireland if Britain continued to account for the majority of big firms' work.

He said construction had formerly accounted for around 7% of output in Northern Ireland.

Some of the biggest players in construction in the province have made major inroads into the Britain market.

McAleer & Rushe in Cookstown announced a hat-trick of contracts in Britain worth over £80m in July this year.

Newry firm O'Hare and McGovern unveiled a near-doubling in turnover to £68m during 2014, with a number of deals at home and in Britain accounting for the jump in profits.

Belfast Telegraph

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