The demolition business, probably more than any other sector of British industry, has made enormous strides in efficiency, innovation, safety and sustainability in recent years.
This is largely due to the efforts of the people who work at the centre of the industry, and who have taken up the challenges that modern-day demolition projects now demand.
It used to be that perhaps just 5 per cent of construction costs were earmarked for demolition. In many cases, this has now at least doubled, as the upper tier of demolition contractors expand their scope and take on more of the builders’ work.
For a company like John F Hunt, the average cost per contract was between £2-3million just three years ago, but today, post-recession, that has doubled, as larger and more extensive schemes have hit the market and the company’s compass of operation has increased.
Established in 1982, John F Hunt Demolition has grown to become one of the UK’s largest demolition companies. It works with developers, industrialists, contractors and local authorities throughout the private and public sectors, and is at the forefront of new thinking within the industry.
Increasingly, companies are being asked not only to demolish buildings but to prepare the ground before construction can commence. John F Hunt offers a broad spectrum of services including ground remediation, piling, infrastructure and deep-basement construction works. Andy Salter, Managing Director of John F Hunt Demolition, explains: “Clients are continually looking for the best value from us. We have addressed this by focusing on innovation in engineering and in the methodology we adopt.
Also, increasing the sphere of our operations and becoming more construction-orientated has allowed us to offer clients significant cost and programme advantages.”
Demolition, along with the rest of UK construction plc, faces stiff competition to recruit the best talent; good people are scarce in this booming market.
From machine operators to supervisors, project managers and surveyors, quality people are in short supply. Salter continues: “Some years ago we took a conscious decision to improve the calibre of people we recruit. John F Hunt now offers engineering apprenticeships in its workshops and sponsors talented young people through university.
We also embarked on an extensive scheme to expand the knowledge of our existing staff in related fields, especially that of Health, Safety and Quality Systems management.” This has obviously paid dividends, as the company now boasts one of the best staff retention rates in its sector.
John Hall, John F Hunt Group CEO, taking an overview on the business adds: “Customers in the plant-hire sector are no longer willing to tolerate noisy, out-of-date and inefficient equipment. Accordingly, we decided to initiate a structured replacement policy, taking advantage of the exceptionally low interest rates and invested heavily in the most silent, security assured and environmentally friendly plant on the market.” He says: “Now, with the recession well behind us we are running exceptional utilisation rates, as demand for this new generation of machine increases.” Another change Hall has noticed is a growing preference for robotics. “In the demolition sector, we have seen an increasing demand for robotic machines.
This has been brought about not only by pressure from health and safety but a general desire of the industry to become more cost-efficient and improve working practices in general. However, our hire business has seen an excellent upturn from the specialist tunnelling sector off the back of Crossrail, where zero emissions are so critical.
Therefore as a consequence, we have virtually doubled our fleet of robotic demolition machines over the last 18 months.” The company currently employs more than 450 people across its Demolition, Plant Hire and Asbestos Consultancy operations. It is at the heart of the London construction boom and is one of many businesses to be benefiting from the insatiable appetite of Far East investors for London Real Estate. Hall concludes: “I am often asked if as a business we are now ‘hiking up our rates’ and the answer is always a resounding ‘No’.
Our current working margin is exactly what it was during the recession. However what we are trying to do is work in a more planned and efficient manner, not taking the unnecessary risks that have traditionally seen so many Demolition and Plant Hire Contractors fail in the past”