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£40m price put on Cox sale Merger of Tarmac and Bovis outfits announced Brace of deals sends hire sector into flux

A MASSIVE shake-up hit the volatile £2.5 billion UK plant hire market this week involving three of the top 15 players.

On Monday logistics firm Transport and Development Group announced the sale of its Cox plant hire business which industry experts price at more than £40 million.

And on Tuesday, Tarmac and Bovis announced that their plant hire firms Castle and Wyseplant would merge into a 50-50 joint venture. The new company, Castlewyse, will turn over £60 million, have net assets of about £56 million, and employ 800 people, putting it into the top five of UK plant hire firms.

Staff losses are likely at Wyseplant's 15 depots and Castle's 13, although the good fit between the operations should help avoid massive job cuts.

The past three years have seen significant restructuring in the plant hire sector.

Most of the major contractors have either shed the bulk of their plant or packaged it into stand-alone hire subsidiaries.

Meanwhile, the top plant hire firms have expanded rapidly after realising the operational and purchasing benefits of scale.

Castle's managing director, Staff Engstrm, will head Tarmac Professional Services, leaving the way clear for Wyseplant's Doug Garforth to take over as managing director of Castlewyse.

Mr Garforth predicts there will be more rationalisation in the plant hire market.

He said: 'It will create a smaller number of larger hire companies competing on the basis of product range and distribution networks.'

The appetite of the big players will be whetted with the £35 million turnover Leatherhead-based Cox coming on to the market.

The highly acquisitive A-Plant and Hewden Stuart, which wants increase its presence in the South and in the lighter end of the market, are seen as front runners alongside a buyout bid by the management.

Hewden chairman Sandy Findlay said: 'If Cox were up for sale, Hewden Stuart would be likely to be interested.'

The main business, Cox Hire Centres, hires out non-operated small plant through 29 centres in the south, South-West and Midlands. The other operation, Cox Accommodation, hires out site accommodation from 11 centres.