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BAA boss ranks steel top

MATERIALS - Airports operator stokes steel-concrete debate after praising off-site techniques at awards ceremony

BAA construction director Roger Bayliss has added fuel to the fierce commercial rivalry between steel and concrete.

Speaking at the British Constructional Steel Association awards, Mr Bayliss, who is responsible for all work at BAA outside of the Terminal 5 project, said: 'Concrete has made great strides in recent years, but steel has the edge.'

Mr Bayliss said that steel's flexibility and lightness had been significant in achieving a series of 'great projects' at Britain's airports.

Mr Bayliss said he thought the trend would continue, with a demand for some 40,000 tonnes of steel at Heathrow alone over the next 10 years, part of a £9.5 billion investment programme BAA plans for its seven UK airports.

He added that only massive international price rises might alter the picture.

The airport operator is finalising its takeover by Spanish construction giant Ferrovial, but the new owner has publicly stated that it intends to honour the expansion plans set out in the Government's White Paper of 2003.

BAA made use of steel on the highprofile completions of the iconic Heathrow airport control tower and the cross-runway Gatwick airbridge, which will link passengers to a terminal extension.

The two schemes were among four which received premium awards at the British Constructional Steel Association awards (see right).

Mr Bayliss said that BAA was pushing strongly towards a complete off-site approach, with the final product almost a kit of parts assembled like flat pack furniture. He added that in the future teams would need to tightly control quality standards and quantities using these methods.

He stressed that pre-assembly did not rule out using concrete in precast units.

But added steel was generally lighter, easier to lift and more flexible. Concrete is also used, when appropriate, in situ. A significant example was the Edinburgh airport control tower.

A spokesman at the Concrete Centre fought back, arguing that precast units required little finishing or additional cladding on site, did not require difficult and vulnerable fire protection coatings and were more sustainable - both in production and in use - because of their heatsink properties.