Belfast Telegraph

The sky's the limit for high rise facade specialists McMullen

London property boom a boon for building firm as turnover hits £26m

By Margaret Canning

A boom in high-rises in London has helped a Co Down specialist construction firm reach turnover of £26.4m in the 14 months to January 2014. McMullen Facades in Moira had profits before tax of £25,638 and its strategic report stated it would have turnover of £30m next year, thanks to a "dramatic growth curve" in the UK.

Chief executive Ted McMullen said he hoped the firm would be able to hire another 40 people as it continues to win contracts in England – including a recent £6.5m deal for a vertical facade at The Pinnacle, a high-rise residence in Battersea.

But it has been some years since it last worked in Northern Ireland, with all its recent contracts relating to projects in England –particularly London.

McMullen Facades in Moira –formerly known as McMullen Architectural Systems – has been part of the Lakesmere Group in England since 2012 and employs 140 people.

The recently filed accounts mark its first full accounting year since the takeover, which followed financial difficulties for the then family-run Moira firm.

The firm worked on landmark residential and office buildings in Belfast such as The Soloist at Lanyon Place, the Obel Building and The Boat.

But Mr McMullen said there had been no projects at home since it finished work on The Soloist around three years ago. "Unfortunately because of the decline in the construction industry, we don't currently work on projects in Northern Ireland," he said.

Manufacturing of its facades for buildings in England takes place in its manufacturing plant in Moira, he added.

"Since being part of Lakesmere, our strategy has changed and we have been largely working on high rise sites around England," he said.

"But there will be some opportunities coming up, such as the new University of Ulster (in Belfast), so we will be very keen to tender for those jobs so that we will be able to do a job at home."

He added: "I think we do need to see office development happening, because there has been very little high rise building being done in Northern Ireland. We need to see an increase in demand, and the market needs to rectify itself."

The arrival of American investors like Marathon Asset Management, new owners of the Obel, and Cerberus – which has bought Nama's portfolio in Northern Ireland – would have no impact on the development of new offices "until we see how they want to use those assets".

He said times had changed for McMullen since the takeover. "It's now a different strategy and we are part of a much larger group, with large cash reserves and a slightly different strategy," he said.

"But there is a high level of development in people, processes and machinery, which we have been able to benefit from."

Work in London was continuing for the foreseeable future, he said. "London is such an important city and there's a very strong boom happening, though some people say the market is overheating and they can't see it continuing as it is now."

But the market was cyclical –and London's boom was slow to spread to other English cities, while Scotland was seeing only moderate improvements.

But he added: "We need jobs in Northern Ireland and I would be worried about the number of people who are leaving.

"The economy here really has to start to pick up – and we need a review of our corporation tax, as that would be a major driver for overseas companies to come here."

Mr McMullen has been working in the company since 1979, after his father founded it in 1971.

But he said he had no plans to retire.

But being bought over by Lakesmere had been essential to secure the future of the company.

Both businesses had learned from each other, he said.

Lakesmere Group said at the time that the integration between the two companies had built on McMullen's 40-year heritage.

Other recent contract wins by McMullen in London included work on Tribeca Square in Elephant & Castle and Kings Cross.

Background

McMullen Architectural Systems was founded in 1971 by Edward McMullen, and is now run by his son Ted. In 2012, it was acquired by Lakesmere Group in England, and its name changed to McMullen Facades. As part of Lakesmere, the company has won major contracts in England.

Belfast Telegraph

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