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Aussie firm to quit UK

McConnell Dowell is retreating from the UK after poor results and pressure from South African investors

AUSTRALIAN engineering and construction firm McConnell Dowell is pulling out of the UK just four years after entering the market.

The firm set up McConnell Dowell UK and bought Wakefield firm Stockton Pipelines in 2000 in an attempt to gain a foothold in the high-pressure pipeline market with Transco, which has since merged with National Grid.

The withdrawal has come after pressure from McConnell Dowell's major shareholder, South African firm Aveng, following the UK subsidiary's poor financial performance.

McConnell Dowell, which employed 150 people and turned over £50 million at the peak of its UK activities, ran into huge problems on a 29 km pipeline from Salmesbury to Helmshore in Lancashire for Transco, which came in at almost double the original budget of £16 million.

The pipeline was finally commissioned last year - nearly 18 months behind schedule - and the company has only just completed snagging works.McConnell Dowell was also removed from NGT's approved list for major pipeline jobs.

Both McConnell Dowell UK and Stockton Pipelines are being wound down with the plant of Stockton Pipelines, which specialises in horizontal directional drilling, to be shipped back to Singapore.

One source close to the company said: 'After looking at the business, Aveng decided that McConnell Dowell was not making enough money in the UK and wanted to concentrate closer to home.'

The main board had already taken the decision to scale down operations in 2003 following a slowdown in demand, with both companies being run out of the same office by managing director Fiona Stockton, daughter of company founder Geoff Stockton.

Ms Stockton has been made redundant but is understood to have set up her own business, Stockton Drilling.