Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Construction market foundations wobbling

Confirmation of Patton Group's administration will be welcomed by nobody but begrudgingly accepted by many.

That such a long-standing and hard-working company has reached this position is undoubtedly more a reflection of the current climate in the property and construction markets rather than a indictment of the way the firm has been run.

From building the stunning Metropolitan College Building in Belfast to fitting out the Hard Rock Cafe in Brussels the family-owned company has made sure its tackled the headwinds of the deepest recession since the post war years head on.

Work in the building sector in Northern Ireland has slumped by 40% since the peak of the market in 2007 but Patton, like many others, made sure they were seeking out contracts in other regions and their workers were, and still are, to be found on commuter flights out of Belfast each week.

And while this appears to have been tiding the firm over, as with many other construction companies there was little it could do to about the meltdown in the property market.

Patton Group's latest accounts show it made nearly £2m in operating profit in 2011 but because of writedowns to its land bank of £5m that was well and truly wiped out.

Make no mistake, this is no Quinn Group. Patton Group wasn't dabbling in markets outside its area of expertise, as was Quinn with its dangerous dabble in Anglo Irish Bank derivatives, but instead it was buying up land to build houses on, something that in hindsight may appear a risky option but which prior to 2007 had been its mainstay for nearly 100 years and a profitable one at that.

That's little comfort to the company's creditors or at-risk employees but should at least offer up the very real hope that a prospective buyer can be found for some or all of the business.

For now the business is still running under the control of the administrators and with any luck cash-rich buyers will be considering their options but there's no doubt that the latest victim of the property and construction market slump has dented already fragile confidence in the jittery industry.

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